Dame Lillard is stuck between a rock and a mediocre team.
For the past nine seasons, all the six-time NBA All-Star has done is deliver in the clutch and blossom into the best player in Portland Trail Blazer history—not named Clyde Drexler. (Bill Walton and Geoff Petrie could never.) And in return, the franchise has rewarded him with an endless cycle of prosaic coaching and tepid rosters.
A lesser man would’ve demanded a trade—a refuge Lillard has repeatedly refused throughout the course of his career. Yet, despite the continuous slights, disrespect, and perpetual heartbreak that comes with playing on a small market team that’s trapped in a hamster wheel, the Oakland native has remained loyal to the soil. He’s insisted that escaping Portland to join a superteam “ain’t for me,” and instead funnels his frustrations into cryptic pleas for help and ruthless jabs at his superstar peers on social media.
After Portland’s latest playoff collapse against the Denver Nuggets—one in which Lillard delivered the first 50-point, 10-assist postseason game in NBA history—it somehow still wasn’t enough against a wounded foe playing without its starting point guard. And once the dust settled on yet another embarrassing first-round exit, it finally appeared as though Lillard had had enough.
“I mean, we didn’t win a championship, so obviously where we are now isn’t good enough,” he told reporters after getting eliminated from the playoffs in June. “We came up short against a team without their starting point guard and shooting guard (Will Barton and Jamal Murray). [...] Obviously, where we are isn’t good enough to win a championship if it’s not good enough to get out of a first-round series with two of their best three or four players not on the floor.”
Then weeks later, after his frustrations had cooled, Lillard put the onus on the franchise to do better by him—or else.
“I think the best way to do this is to be more urgent about what our next move is and how we’re moving forward,” Lillard said after a Team USA practice. “We are very proud of how we have played off so many years. We are not a bad team. [...] But I just think we’ve reached a point where it’s like, ‘OK, but that’s not enough.’ Do we really want to win it all? Are we shooting for it? And we have to take action behind that desire to win at that level.”
He added, “My goal in my heart is to stay in a Blazer uniform for the rest of my career. But over time, that is likely to change. We all need to take steps to do that.”
The Blazers took heed to this stern warning by...bringing in a brand spanking new controversial coach and luring middling talent to Portland this offseason instead of cashing in on a C.J. McCollum trade before his value inevitably craters.
Hoorah! More mediocrity!
And now Lillard is in the awkward position of knowing there are much better
teams women out there, but he doesn’t want to cheat on his wife.
It’s complicated, y’all.
This brings us to a recent Instagram Live session, in which the 31-year-old assured fans that he wasn’t demanding a trade from Portland, but didn’t exactly sound convincing.
“I’m not leaving PDX,” he replied to a fan’s inquiry. “Not now, at least.”
Dame, blink twice if you’re okay.
I’ve said for years now that Portland doesn’t deserve a player of Lillard’s caliber, and I wholeheartedly believe it’s only a matter of time before he comes to that same realization.