The Portland Trail Blazers are coming to a crossroads. Franchise star Damian Lillard knows it, and he believes the franchise knows it, too.
Lillard said as much during an interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Wednesday night, discussing the team’s need to either build a contender around him quickly or move in a younger direction.
“It ain’t a threat. I ain’t gonna say I’m putting them on the clock. I’m just saying if those things can’t be done — if we can’t do something significant like that [put together a competitive, playoff-ready roster] — then we won’t have a chance to compete on that level. And then, not only will I have a decision to make, but I think the organization will, too. Because at that point, it’s like, ‘Are you gonna go young, or are we gonna get something done?’ I think we just kinda been on the fence with fully committing to either one. I just think we at that point now where everybody wants to win. They believe I deserve that opportunity.”
This message from Lillard isn’t exactly new. The 32-year-old All-Star delivered essentially the same point during his 2023 exit interview on Sunday, saying he didn’t “have much of an appetite for building with guys two and three years away [from being able to compete at a high level].” During that interview, Lillard pressed this off-season is the time to make the moves necessary to catapult into contention. General manager Joe Cronin and head coach Chauncey Billups echoed that desire, agreeing the team needed to be aggressive in its roster-building.
But, if Cronin can’t pull of those big-swing moves — similar to February’s trade deadline when Cronin said he tried but failed — and the Blazers don’t hit the Draft Lottery jackpot that is Victor Wembanyama, things will get interesting in Rip City. Do Lillard and the front office decide to hunker down one more time and kick the can down the road to another trade deadline? Or do they decide to part ways and Portland resets around young talents Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe.
Lillard said he’s not putting the Blazers “on the clock,” but time is ticking for Portland to figure out its identity and future.