While it was unofficial but understood for some time, now it is official: Damian Lillard has been shut down for the season. Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report (who has close ties to the Lillard camp) Tweeted out the news.
With injury-plagued Portland Trail Blazers out of the playoff picture, superstar guard Damian Lillard will be held out the remainder of the season, league sources tell @NBAonTNT, @BleacherReport.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) March 28, 2023
The Blazers are five games out of the final play-in spot with seven games to play, they aren’t making up that ground. They are tied for the fifth-worst record in the league, which comes with a 10.5% chance at the top pick and Victor Wembanyama. This was the right play.
Before it became official, Shams Charania at The Athletic wrote in “The Bounce” newsletter Monday that Lillard is “essentially” shut down for the season – and then lit a fire under the topic that makes Trail Blazers’ fans’ eyes roll:
Damian Lillard trade talk.
On the other side of things, you now have to wonder if Lillard ever steps on the court again for Portland. There was a ton of optimism going into this season after the team landed Jerami Grant and got off to a good start to the campaign. Now, not making the playoffs for a second year in a row, a soon-to-be 33-year-old star of this league who has never gotten a chance to win it all will have tons of questions to ask the front office this offseason, and I expect there to be serious conversations about what’s next for both sides.
We all knew the Lillard trade speculation was coming. Same with Bradley Beal in Washington. The same core rule applies to both of them:
Lillard will not get traded unless he asks to be moved. He has never done so, in fact saying just weeks ago about playing the rest of his career in Portland, “To that point, I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Portland has been loyal to him and Lillard signed a massive contract extension last offseason and has four years, $216.2 million left on that deal, including about $63.2 million in the contract’s final season when he is 36. He’s happy where he is and has deep roots in the community.
The odds are better than not that Lillard will retire a Trail Blazer, even if that’s not the path other stars would walk. Lillard is wired differently.
Can you construct an argument that the Trail Blazers should trade Lillard while his value is sky-high — he will be an All-NBA player again this season — because the organization’s best path to a ring is with whoever and whatever’s next? Maybe. However, that ignores the financial reality of the Blazers — Lillard brings the fans in the door, brings in team sponsors who want to be associated with him, and he sells jerseys. Lillard is good business for Portland, there is no incentive for ownership to move on right now.
In fact, it may be the opposite. Portland can throw multiple picks and good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons into a trade to bring in another star to play with Lillard. That is more how their front office pictures this summer — they want to go all in on building around Lillard. Not sending him away.
Other teams covet Lillard, and trade packages can be constructed (would Miami be willing to move on from Bam Adebayo for the chance to pair Lillard with Jimmy Butler?). But it’s all idle talk until Lillard sits down with franchise ownership/management and says it’s time for him to move on. That has yet to happen. It may well never happen.
Just expect the avalanche of Lillard speculation to begin. Warranted or not.