NEW ORLEANS — All-Star weekend is supposed to be a few days off in the middle of the season for players. A chance to relax, hang out with family or go sit on a beach in the Caribbean or whatever they want to do. A needed break in the middle of the marathon NBA season, a break the league is talking about making even longer.
So what is Damian Lillard thinking?
The Portland point guard is in five events this weekend. It starts with the Rising Stars challenge Friday night (you still call it the rookie/sophomore game). Saturday he’s in the Dunk Contest and the Three Point Contest and the Skills Challenge. Sunday he’s got a spot in the All-Star Game itself.
That’s no break.
Of course if you suggest to Lillard that’s too much he pretty much laughs at the idea.
“I don’t see it problem,” Lillard said Friday when speaking to the media. “It’s not like I’m playing 35 hard minutes like I do for the Trail Blazers. However many minutes I play in the All-Star Game, it’s not like we’re gonna be picking up full court, or playing ball screen defense in the Rising Stars tonight. The other competitions are maybe five minutes a piece. So it’s not much effort or exertion like that. It’s a friendly competition.”
It also helps that he is 23 years old. As players get older they cherish the weekend off more and more — when I asked Tony Parker if he tried to drag Tim Duncan to the game this weekend he laughed and said, “No way, he didn’t want to come and I couldn’t have changed his mind.”
For Lillard, this weekend is all about improving his personal brand (and the Trail Blazers were okay with it, he said). He came out of a mid-major at Weber State, it wasn’t like he came out of Duke or Kansas or some school that gave him a built in massive fan base. He’s got to earn it now, so he’s trying to do that. He’ll put himself out there every night.
He can sleep when he’s as old as Duncan.
So what skills event does he stand the best chance of winning?
“If I didn’t think I had a chance to win all of them I wouldn’t put my name in them,” Lillard said. “I really feel strong about the three-point shootout.”