After signing a massive two-year, $122 million contract extension Friday, Portland Trail Blazers franchise star Damian Lillard is locked in to the organization for years to come.
At a press conference prior to Portland’s summer league game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, Lillard, general manager Joe Cronin, and head coach Chauncey Billups spoke on the factors which led to the new deal.
Most important in his decision-making process, Lillard saw a mutual desire between him and management to build a championship team. Lillard said all he wants is a puncher’s chance and the organization is moving in the right direction to make that happen.
“As long as I have an opportunity to do it, I’m willing to go out however,” he said. “That’s where I’ve always stood and that’s where I stand. I just want an opportunity to either, it’s going to get done or it’s not going to get done. I don’t want to go out there with this crazy uphill battle that I’m fighting and we need a miracle times 10 to get it done. I just want a shot at it. And if that happens, and it doesn’t work out, then I can live with it.”
Billups co-signed on his franchise point guard’s words, saying the organization is trying to do its best by Lillard and a passionate fanbase hungry for its first title in 45 years.
“We’re trying to build our team up so we can give Dame and our great fans a fair shake and a fair chance to accomplish what we all want, which is a championship.”
Part of Lillard’s trust in the front office comes from impactful offseason acquisitions. Lillard called the addition of forward Jerami Grant “huge.” He said the signing of defensive-oriented guard Gary Payton II “changes the team.” While the roster is still a few moves away from true contention, Lillard has faith in the front office’s vision.
“The answers that I got and the responses that I got, I didn’t look at him, like, ‘Oh, he’s just telling me this,’ I was able to trust what I was hearing from Chauncey and Joe,” Lillard said. “And I think I’ve got a good nose for when somebody is blowing smoke.”
Three years remained on Lillard’s current deal, worth about $137 million, so the extension will kick in after the 2024-25 season right before Lillard turns 35. The final year on the extension, the 2026-27 season, will be a $62 million player option. If Lillard opts in to that year, his next five seasons with the Blazers will cost $259 million.
Gaudy financial earnings and a culture predicated on winning were priorities that steered him to sign the new deal, but as it often is with Lillard, so were pride and loyalty.
He said he considered leaving the Pacific Northwest after Portland’s frustrating first round loss to the Denver Nuggets in the 2021 playoffs. Even after a 27-55 record in the season following that first round exit, Lillard remains committed to the organization that drafted him 10 years ago. During a player empowerment era known for ring chasing and stars requesting trades, Lillard said this type of loyalty is missing from the game.
“I don’t think that you earn something like this just by going out there and scoring a bunch of points,” Lillard said. “Something that’s missing in our league is the character and the fight, and the passion and pride about not just the name on the back, but the name on the front and how you impact the people that you come in contact with.”
As the new extension reaffirms, both Lillard and the organization are working together to ensure he never takes pride in wearing another team’s jersey.
“This deal puts us in a position to continue on the path to making him a lifetime Trail Blazer,” Cronin said.