Since before the Trail Blazers season ended, rumors and reports of Damian Lillard wanting to pressure the Trail Blazers into big changes — or bolt — have been everywhere. Often the reports have come from journalists close to Lillard.
Lillard continues to deny it all.
Lillard is currently busy with Team USA as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. During a press conference for that team he was asked about the speculation around his future, and Lillard tried to throw water on that fire.
“At this point, it’s a lot of things being said, sometimes words being put in my mouth when I haven’t said anything,” Lillard said. “Should be all of the people who have covered me since I’ve been in the NBA, they know if there’s something to be said, or if I think something or have something to say, I’m going to say it, and I’m going to stand on it.
“Like I said, it’s been a lot of talk. But nobody has heard me talk, nobody has heard me say any of these things. But anything I have to say, I’m going to say it directly to Neil [Olshey, Trail Blazers GM] and I’m going to address it with my team. I don’t really have nothing to say to you guys about it.”
From where I sit, it looks like Lillard is trying to walk a fine line.
He has for years said he wanted to remain a Trail Blazer for life, he wants to win a title in Portland. Lillard has for years been the low-maintenance superstar and the face of the franchise, and he relishes that role. But, now at age 30 and entering the back end of his prime, he realizes the roster around him in Portland is not good enough to reach that title goal. Lillard wants to win. So, he wants to put pressure on the organization to upgrade the roster, but the only way to do that is to make the threat of leaving — and have the intention of following through if needed.
However, being the superstar who pressures the organization and is willing to bolt to join another superstar is not how Lillard sees himself. It’s not his brand.
So reports come out from sources (people in Lillard’s camp, but not necessarily him), other teams around the league line up offers just in case and say they are “monitoring the situation,” and the speculation is everywhere. Lillard doesn’t have to say anything to accomplish his goal, in fact, he can say there are “words being put in my mouth when I haven’t said anything.” Which is technically true, but there wouldn’t be this much smoke without some fire.
What happens if Chauncey Billups as the new coach and a tweaked roster — whatever that looks like — is not enough to change the fate of the Trail Blazers? Then what does Lillard do?
That is the real question, but it will likely be a while — maybe next summer, maybe longer — before we find out.