Damian Lillard is well on his way to being the best Portland Trail Blazer of all time. He might be there already. Now, Lillard is about to be the highest paid Blazer of all time.
According to multiple reports, Lillard is set to sign a super max contract extension with the Trail Blazers when free agency opens on Sunday worth $196 million over five years. The contract will start in 2021-22 when Lillard’s current deal runs out. Portland’s franchise guard last signed an extension worth $120 million in 2015.
This is a monumental signing for the Blazers, whose leader took them to the Western Conference Finals last year. Lillard adapted well to a new rotation under Terry Stotts, who decided to handcuff him to CJ McCollum in the starting lineup instead of alternating them after the first substitution the way he had the past few seasons.
Lillard’s season was significant, not only from a team perspective. He’s continued to get better, adding crafty moves around the hoop and stealing some of Chris Paul’s foul-seeking techniques.
The postseason showed a marked increase in his defensive ability as well. Lillard made a huge jump in his relative ranking defending the pick-and-roll between the regular season and the playoffs. He also jumped from the 29th percentile guarding spot-up shooters to the 81st percentile, according to Synergy. Lillard appears to be rounding into form as a player, and his supermax deal was never in doubt.
This contract is another chance for the NBA to see if their vaunted 2017 CBA addition was worth it. The supermax has not played out exactly how teams intended. John Wall’s contract looks like a disaster at this point, and Kawhi Leonard simply walked away from his potential supermax with the San Antonio Spurs. And while James Harden and Stephen Curry are certainly worthy of their mega deals, it’s not clear that’ll be the case for Russell Westbrook or Wall by the time their contracts draw to a close.
Much has been made about the supermax eating into too big a chunk of team’s salary cap. The Blazers are already crunched in that regard, but as their contracts start to fall off and as Lillard’s deal kicks in, it’ll further hamper their ability to make free agent additions.
As an aside, it’s been suggested that the NBA make a rule where supermax deals only take up a set cap figure — say, $30 million — and any money above that doesn’t count toward the cap. It might give a better incentive for teams to offer it to players, which the players association would love. It would also allow teams more flexibility to add winning players, which franchises should support.
That would certainly help Portland if it existed here. Lillard’s deal will command him in excess of $50 million during his age 34 season, which is a serious concern. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 but really stands something like 6-foot-1.5, and we know how smaller guards tend to do as they age.
But Portland is at a point where they don’t have any other choice, and Lillard is the face of the franchise. He’s quickly surpassing Brandon Roy as the modern totem of the team in that regard. As a resident of the Rose City and a journalist covering the Blazers, I can tell you that there’s very little reticence to give Lillard that money, no matter the risk.
Now what’s left is for the Blazers to try and put a team around him that can match his current output before Lillard’s salary squeezes Portland’s ability to make additional moves in the years to come.
This was the no-brainer for GM Neil Olshey. Here is where the real work in Rip City begins.