if LeBron James had his way, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard would be in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform today. In the summer of 2021, one month removed from a first-round NBA Playoff exit, Lillard found himself in LA to shoot a music video. It was then that Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James extended him a dinner invite, according to The Ringer’s Logan Murdock. Lillard agreed to meet James at his Brentwood mansion to talk shop.
“He was just like, ‘Pull up to the house,’” Lillard told me recently. “And I’m like, shit, I’m out here. Tomorrow is the only day I ain’t got nothing planned out. I can pull up for a little bit.”
Now Lillard was seated across from James and Anthony Davis, who needed help in their quest for another title. That evening, they indulged in expensive wine and Italian cuisine and discussed their plans for the future. “We just chopped it up just about the possibilities,” Lillard said.
Was it a recruitment pitch? Not directly per se, but the Lakers duo – fresh off of their own first-round loss – needed help, and were keen to ask about Lillard’s situation in Portland. Of course, Lillard remained steadfast in his commitment to the city and the franchise, but the questions came at a time of uncertainty for him.
After years of stagnation, including four first-round exits wrapped around a trip to the 2019 West finals, Lillard was open to seeing what the rest of the league had to offer. And for a moment at LeBron’s table, the Lakers duo was making a compelling case for Lillard to leave, enough to form a fleeting idea of donning the purple and gold. “I mean, of course I thought about it,” Lillard said. “Like, man, what if that happened? What if I did go? I thought about it. At that point, I was thinking about a lot of things.”
Lillard added: “I was like, ‘If I’m going to ever look at a different situation than mine, I’m going to look at one where I know I’m going to have a great chance to win.’”
Lillard remained unswayed by temptation and, shortly thereafter, the Lakers traded for point guard Russell Westbrook. Since then, neither the Trail Blazers nor the Lakers have experienced much success, both missing the NBA Playoffs entirely the following season.
But Lillard did not stick around for sheer loyalty’s sake. He believes in the visions shared by head coach Chauncey Billups and GM Joe Cronin. He even did some recruiting of his own, playing a key part in the acquisitions of forward Jerami Grant and guard Gary Payton II, both of whom are expected to bolster the team’s defense as they shape its new identity.
Only time will tell if the Trail Blazers experience the success they are building toward. Meanwhile, Trail Blazers fans can – and likely will – glory in the Lakers’ woes, while cheering on the star who stayed.