Lillard said he believes Trail Blazers roster can quickly be flipped into contender

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The Trail Blazers have torn down this year’s roster — they don’t like the word tanking, but if it walks like a duck… — with plans to quickly rebuild a contender around Damian Lillard.

Is that possible? Likely? Damian Lillard believes it is, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports in a lengthy interview, adding there is “no way” next season’s Portland team ends up in the same position as this season’s.

“And I also think we’ve taken some steps back as an organization, obviously with the moves that we’ve made [at the trade deadline]. But we’ve also positioned ourselves to do something that we haven’t been able to do since I’ve been here, which is we’ve opened up money, we got picks, we got a $22 million trade exception, we got a $6 million trade exception, we got the full mid-level, we got the biannual. We have an opportunity, and we got flexibility. There are guys we can bring in that can make us a team that can compete for a championship, but we have to execute that.”

Haynes asked if winning a title in Portland was still Lillard’s goal.

“That’s the only thing I care about, honestly… Like I said, my best is yet to come. And the only things that I play for at this point is I want to be the MVP of the league and I want to win the championship. And once I do those things, I feel great about the investment that I made to this game over my whole life. If I accomplish those two things, I’m walking away feeling like I literally got the most out of myself as an athlete.”

There are front offices around the league watching and wondering how long Lillard will stay committed to this plan if his fast rebuild stalls out.

Which could happen — pulling off this high-speed rebuild will be difficult. At best. The biggest name free agents — Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, Kyrie Irving — are expected to stay with their current teams (despite Miami coveting Beal). The Trail Blazers plan to re-sign Anfernee Simons, and there are rumors they will try to poach Pistons’ forward Jerami Grant. Those two would make the Trail Blazers better, but nowhere near a contender in a West that will come back deeper and better next season (the Clippers and Nuggets will be healthy, to start). Lillard has some recruiting to do, and Portland will need one of those out-of-nowhere NBA summer blockbusters the league is known for to make that next leap.

Never say never, especially if a pain-free Lillard can return to his All-NBA form, but the Trail Blazers have a lot of work to do.

The important thing is Lillard has bought in.