On the one hand, you’ve got to love Damian Lillard. He’s all about team, loves being a Portland Trail Blazer, never complains when the front office leaves him high and dry and is as clutch as any player in the NBA not named Steph Curry. On the other hand, over the last four seasons he’s been spotty at best in terms of playing and seems to be quite fragile. He misses quite a few games in which there is no real injury, just the threat of a phantom injury that might happen based on some advanced computer algorithm or something crazy like that. He even complained about this when he was shut down for the remainder of the 2022-23 season. There’s also the very real chance that Lillard simply lacks the leadership quality needed to push his team to elite status. There have been several times during his 11-year career in which he actually had championship-caliber teams around him on paper, but the paper folded a little too early each time.
Against this backdrop we have the current somewhat enigmatic situation in Portland. When the Blazers drafted point guard Scoot Henderson with the second overall pick it was assumed that it would spell the end for Lillard in red and black. A kind of silly cat-and-mouse game ensued, with Blazers GM Joe Cronin saying he wouldn’t trade Lillard unless he asked to be traded, Lillard saying he wasn’t interested in doing that, and the issued getting hit back and forth in the media in a manner that made professional tennis players dizzy. Eventually, Lillard finally did say he wanted to be traded, though in a somewhat half-hearted way, naming the Miami Heat as his preferred destination. Of course, Miami isn’t willing to offer Portland anything they’re interested in, so Heat President Pat Riley has been working the phones trying to find a third team to facilitate a deal.
One issue is that no one really wants to help Riley build another championship team, but there is another, somewhat stranger issue going on, as well. Portland isn’t really shopping Lillard and Lillard isn’t really talking about wanting to be traded, either. In fact, sources close to the situation told The Hardwood Huddle recently that internally the Blazers are talking about having Lillard mentor Scoot Henderson and Lillard appears to be OK with that.
The only real downside to this scenario is that this will be the only thing the trade-crazy media will be asking about and talking about when training camp starts if Lillard is still in camp. That’s precisely the reason Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti pulled the trigger on sending James Harden to the Houston Rockets despite rebuffing their trade interest for months. No matter what the team might have done, the shark-like, ravenous jaws of the clickbait addicts would have made Harden’s status the only storyline every single day.
Will that be enough to force Portland’s hand in the Lillard situation? Hopefully not, but it certainly would not be surprising. It would be interesting to see Lillard, with his attitude of hard work, loyalty and humility, mentor the team’s next potential franchise player.
From The Hardwood Huddle:
The 2023-24 NBA season promises to bring significant changes to the balance of power in the Western Conference. While the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers have garnered the most attention, there is A Surprising Contender Rising in the West.
The Boston Celtics made a big splash by signing Jaylen Brown to an historic contract over the summer. It’s a move they almost had to make, despite the fact that the duo of Jayson Tatum and Brown has failed to yield a championship for the team. Facing another season of doing the same things and expecting a different result has the Celtics Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
When Philadelphia 76ers GM Daryl Morey brought James Harden back into the fold, he invited his new team down the same path that led to him stepping down from his last one. Now The James Harden Train Wreck Has Left the Station, and it may cost the Sixers Joel Embiid and Morey his job.
The Dallas Mavericks’ front office continues to build a team that even Mavs Fans For Life (MFFL) will have a hard time loving. Only an unprecedented season from the enigmatic Kyrie Irving can save them. Dallas Mavericks Betting on Kyrie Cryptocurrency.
Throughout the rebuilding process, New Orleans Pelicans GM David Griffin has made all the right moves. Nonetheless, the team is set to face another long season of disappointment. From the front office to the coaching staff, the players and the fans, the Pelicans Do Not Deserve Their Fate.
Bill Ingram is Executive Editor for The Hardwood Huddle, a new website coming to soon from the creators of Back Sports Page. He has been covering the NBA for more than 20 years.