The Portland Trail Blazers community was rocked by Daman Lillard’s trade request this weekend. It’s a moment many swore would never come, after years of Lillard affirming his loyalty to the team and asking them to build a contender around him. When that didn’t materialize during the 2023 trade deadline, draft, and free agency, the story changed. So did Lillard’s mind.
In the ensuing days, trades, future plans, and analysis of the situation have come to the fore. We’ll continue those in the coming week, but before we get there, we want to share some of the thoughts and personal reactions of the Blazer’s Edge staff to this watershed moment. We didn’t ask for intellectual responses, more free-form, gut-level reaction to the news.
Here are some of their responses:
Following the team for almost three decades (from the other side of the world).
Emotions go back and forth minute by minute.
People not invested in this team will say, “it’s just a game, don’t get too high, don’t get too low”. That message probably gets fired at me more than most Blazers fans as I type from my study in Melbourne, Australia.
But Damian Lillard was more than just a really good point guard on a team I follow. He was the franchise, its personality, someone it defined itself by.
The Blazers now need to find a new personality, a new figurehead and a new identity.
The words “What if?” are a constant. What if the Olshey administration had taken a risk and not kicked the can down the road so many times? What if Olshey had the gumption to trade CJ McCollum earlier for a package that better supported Lillard?
What if Wes Matthews’ Achilles didn’t rupture in March 2015? What if LaMarcus Aldridge chose to stay? What if the Blazers hadn’t made the 2016 playoffs, prematurely accelerating the re-build? What if Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard hadn’t been signed to such ridiculous contracts?
What if the franchise didn’t waste two first round picks to move up for Zach Collins in 2017 when Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo and OG Anunoby were available? What if Jusuf Nurkic’s leg didn’t break horrifically in 2019?
What if a deal for a difference maker materialized before last week’s draft? What if it had all been different?
This franchise owes a lot to Damian Lillard and no part of me feels anger at him for doing what he’s done. He’s given everything to a franchise that did not return the favor.
The chance of one, or both, of Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe having the same impact as Lillard is smaller than a lot of people think. Not because they won’t be great players, but because Damian Lillard, the person, doesn’t come along every day.
I hope the Blazers make their way out of the next few years, learning from past mistakes. I hope they re-build responsibly, making the most of their opportunities. I hope down the line, when the time is right, they honor Lillard the way he should be honored.
And I genuinely wish Damian nothing but the best, wherever he ends up.
Following the team for bit over 20 years
I was sitting with my then pre-teen son in the Rose Garden early in the season in 2012, eager to see the new lottery picks in person for the first time. One didn’t make too much of an impression, but the other... you just couldn’t take your eyes off him. Even from our lousy seats in the 300s you felt it in your bones: the fearlessness, the energy, the talent. This guy is good. Really good. Honestly though in 2012 we had no idea just how good he’d become, how he’d stretch the limits of credulity until the absolute bonkers became almost routine.
Since then my son has gone off to college two time zones away, graduated, and gotten his first real job far away from Portland. Through it all Damian Lillard in Portland has been a constant among the changes that life imposes on us, Now that constant - that anchor - is gone. Another reminder that time marches on. Something I’ve shared with my son at every opportunity won’t ever be the same. We’ll still text each other about the Blazers, go to games when he’s in town, and I’ll still treasure that shared bond with the team. It just won’t be the same. Can’t be the same.
We still have the shared memories though. What memories they are.
Following the team for over a decade
I knew it was coming. The first day of free agency with no moves made that clear. I’ve been of the mind that it makes more sense to trade Dame and start the rebuild than sacrifice our future for a couple more years of a second round ceiling. That being said, it feels way different to say something is best and believe it when it happens. Dame has been synonymous with Portland basketball for a decade, he’s been my favorite player since I was old enough to have one. As a 20-year-old, my first memories of Blazers basketball are always memories of Dame and his impossible feats. I remember listening on the radio as he hit the buzzer-beater to beat the Rockets. I remember being exhausted at school the next day because I had so much adrenaline keeping me awake way after Dame hit the shot to send the Thunder home. As excited as I am to see Sharpe and Scoot be the Blazers’ future, nothing will ever replace Damian Lillard. He will be my favorite player ever probably for the rest of my life. Damian Lillard is who made me fall in love with basketball, and that can never be replaced.
Following the team as a casual fan for about 10 years, as a writer, the past two years.
This feels like a bit of a sucker punch for Blazers fans. Dame has been synonymous with Portland for over 10 years, and to see it end this way is unfortunate, because it doesn’t have to be this way. However, as someone with not as much of an emotional connection as my BE colleagues, I think I can provide a different perspective.
The Blazers got a lot out of Dame, and if/when this trade happens, the effects of Lillard will be felt throughout the organization still. Portland isn’t an NBA destination for free agents. In order to build a contender, you have to draft one helluva player, and that’s what they got in Dame.
The reason why Portland hasn’t traded Dame before the request is because there is no guarantee that any player the team would take with any of the draft picks acquired for him would be able to hold a candle to him. However, the Blazers got lucky in the lottery and with the help of the Charlotte Hornets, drafted Scoot Henderson.
Henderson is the best draft pick the franchise has made since Lillard and he is someone you can build a franchise around. Now, you can use the picks you acquire for Dame to build around Scoot, which is probably the route with the highest ceiling for the Blazers long-term.
As sad as it is to lose the franchise player, there’s another one already in place and the Blazers will have a bright future once they officially move on from Dame.
Those are the reactions of some of our staff. Go ahead and share yours in the comments! Not the usual trade suggestions, but just how you feel at a basic, human level about this change. We look forward to reading your thoughts!