Damian Lillard is now the unquestioned top Trail Blazer. He’s a star, both playing and marketing. He could lead the NBA in scoring.
But will he make an All-NBA team?
That honor, above all others, will be extremely important to Lillard this season.
Lillard, who signed a max contract extension this summer, is eligible for the Derrick Rose Rule. Most players with his experience have a max salary based on 25% of the salary cap. But Lillard’s salary could go to 27.5%, according to Basketball Insiders. To qualify a player must be voted a starter to two All-Star games, selected to two All-NBA teams or win MVP in his first four seasons. Lillard, who made the All-NBA third team in 2014, is one All-NBA selection away as he enters his fourth season.
The difference projects to be about $12 million:
Will Lillard nab one of the six All-NBA guard spots?
If healthy, Curry, Harden, Paul and Westbrook are practical locks. That leaves just two spots, and Lillard’s competitors in that range are also young. Irving’s injury might hold him back, but Thompson, Wall and Butler could be even better next season.
So could Lillard, who has a great track record for improving throughout his young career.
But the Trail Blazers, who have accepted taking a step backward after LaMarcus Aldridge left, put Lillard at a major disadvantage.
Of the 120 players to make an All-NBA team the last eight years, just three came from losing teams:
- DeMarcus Cousins (2015 Kings, 29-53)
- Kevin Love (2014 Timberwolves, 40-42)
- Love (2012 Timberwolves, 26-40)
Love’s relative struggles with the Cavaliers could hurt Lillard’s candidacy. There’s definitely a renewed emphasis on the idea that numbers accumulated on a bad team are empty. Lillard’s success with Portland’s playoff teams should dispel the notion he’s not worthy of an All-NBA honor, but not everyone necessarily feels the same way. He’ll have to prove himself in this new role.
This will probably be a forgettable season for the Trail Blazers. But for Lillard, it matters a great deal.