It’s the first day of Training Camp for the Portland Trail Blazers, the roster is mostly set, and the players are back in their market preparing for the start of the season. Standing among them is Portland’s star point guard, Damian Lillard. That seems like an obvious statement, but more than once during this tumultuous off season for the Blazers, fans wondered if Dame would be joining the rest of the team when the season began. Theories have swirled over the last few months about his place with the team—both fueled by internet rumors, and Lillard’s own words and cryptic internet posts.
Jason Quick of the Athletic caught up with Lillard after media day on Monday, and talked with the star about his decision to stay with the Portland Trail Blazers.
He had stuck through the ups and downs of his relationship with his college sweetheart, and in September, he and Kay’La Hanson married.
He had stuck through years of frustration with the politics in the selection process for Team USA, and in August had a gold medal placed around his neck.
And even with his music, which wasn’t always met with widespread approval, he never thought of giving up. Last month, he released his fourth album, “Different On Levels The Lord Allowed.”
While dedication and loyalty seem to run through Dame’s veins, even the most optimistic and hopeful fans had moments over the summer where doubt of the Point Guard’s return clouded the excitement for the upcoming season. But Lillard seems to know where home is, and what needs to be done.
“I’m not going to do something that wasn’t me … step outside of myself to satisfy other people,” Lillard said. “I’m going to do me like I always do me. Wherever that falls, I’m willing to go out on my shield.”
Quick paints a beautiful picture of where the saying “go out on my shield” comes from, going as far as to suggest it as a theme for Rip City this season.
Lillard on Monday several times mentioned, “going out on his shield” — a common boxing term that essentially means not giving up and fighting until the end. It derives from Spartan times when mothers told their sons to come home from battle with their shield, or on it. If they came home without their shield, it meant they abandoned the fight and had no honor.
Lillard seems optimistic that the season won't end with him “going out on his shield” but rather, with success.
“I think over the years, we’ve always had a competitive team, and I think we’ll be competitive again,” Lillard said. “Obviously, at the end of last season I wanted to see our roster improve, I wanted us to have a better chance at winning. And we had our conversations throughout the summer about what that looked like and how we could take steps in that direction. And I come into this season with faith that that’s going to happen, and we are going to do that.”
The Trail Blazers may not have made blockbuster moves this summer, but they did make some changes—changes that seem to have appeased Lillard’s request for a team that could compete for a ring. At least, for now.
“We’ve done some things that I like,” Lillard said, at one point singling out the versatility and athleticism of Nance. “I didn’t expect us to go out there and get Kevin Durant all the sudden. But I think the conversations we’ve had … I feel like it’s genuine that we are trying to move in the right direction and give our team a chance to actually go get another (title). That’s why I have faith — the fact that we’ve had real conversations and that’s what everyone’s intentions were.”
Also among the notable changes that were made—a new head coach and coaching staff. Quick highlights Lillard’s excitement in working with first year head coach, Chauncey Billups.
“I can see from his experience as a player at a championship level how he can really help our team,” Lillard said. “Just from the way he teaches, and the detail that he speaks with — it’s from a winning player’s perspective. I think everybody has to automatically respect that, and you can see the command he has over the team when he speaks. Or if somebody is working out and is not going hard enough, it’s ‘Whoa, whoa! Stop. Stop. If you are going to do this, this is what it needs to look like …’
“You can just tell that he is going to be a good fit for this team.”
The season begins in a few weeks, and the team seems to be overall optimistic as to what the season holds. That optimism and energy seem to be the underlying theme in what’s coming out of the franchise—and hopefully that will translate to a good year for the Portland Trail Blazers.