The Portland Trail Blazers and star guard Damian Lillard have been heading towards an increasingly public, increasingly vocal crossroads for months. Lillard wants to play for a contending team as he works through the latter prime of his career. The Blazers made moves to get younger this season, looking more like a rebuilding roster than a contending one. The pot rose to a boil as the Blazers finished the season with 33 wins, clearly aiming for the NBA Lottery instead of an NBA Championship. In exit interviews and on national broadcasts, Lillard outlined the growing dichotomy between his own career arc and the momentum of the franchise he’s played with for over a decade.
Today, on his #thisleague UNCUT podcast with NBA Analyst Marc Stein, Chris Haynes revealed more of Lillard’s thought process on the issue, as expressed to Haynes himself just before the show recorded.
Lillard commented to Haynes that he and the Blazers are in accord at the moment because the team has made assurances of improvement. Lillard reiterated that he does not want to be in a rebuilding situation, but Haynes added that Lillard also does not want to be on a “mid-tier” team. Haynes also said that, despite earlier interviews that seemed to indicate to the contrary, the Blazers definitely are in a limited-time-frame situation to demonstrate their commitment to getting better.
Haynes’ explanation starts right around the 16:00 mark. A transcript of Haynes’ remarks follows.
I talked to Dame. I talked to Dame a little bit before we started this pod. I told him, “Look, we’re going to talk about the comments you made with Stephen A. Give me your take on what’s going on, what you meant to say.”
He said, “Look. Just say this. ‘I want to win right now. The Blazers tell me that they want to win right now. So for right now, I’m going in trusting that we’re all on the same page and that they’re going to do things to improve this roster, to put this roster in position to be a championship contending team.’”
He said, “Now if they don’t, if things fall short...” then he and the team have a decision to make from there. But he’s let it be known, it’s not a secret to the Blazers. Cuz he’s already talked to Joe Cronin, the General Manager of the Blazers. He had an exit interview with him a couple days ago. He’s already informed them he doesn’t want to go down a road of being a middle-tier team, in no-man’s land, and he doesn’t want to be on a rebuilding team.
So the organization already knows Dame’s stance. They know that if they aren’t able to come through with their promises of putting together a [comparable?] roster, they pretty much know the next step. And that next step is a step that we haven’t seen in Dame’s time of being a professional basketball player.
Right now everything is cool, because there are promises being made. But there’s a small window to come through on those promises, in these next couple of months. If that doesn’t happen, then that’s when I think this situation can be elevated. And it’ll be a worse situation than it was two years ago, when Dame finally came out and expressed a desire to have a better team around him.
The next major event during Portland’s off-season will be the May 16th lottery drawing, where they will discover where among the top nine picks their selection lies.