Last summer, Damian Lillard made it clear to the Trail Blazers that he would be happy to take their money — he has four years and $216 million left on his extended contract — but he wanted a team built around him that could win now. The Trail Blazers obliged and re-signed Anfernee Simons, traded for Jeremi Grant and tried to trade for OG Anunoby, offering up the No.7 pick in the draft, but when that deal didn’t get done they drafted a rookie project with the potential in Shaedon Sharpe. All of that — particularly the massive check — was enough to appease Lillard and keep him in Portland.
Lillard isn’t looking to push his way out the door now, but at his exit interview this week he once again made clear that he wants the Trail Blazers to go all-in on win-now veterans. Lillard was asked about the team’s draft pick — currently fifth before the lottery shakes things up — and if he is good with drafting another player who needs development (via Sean Highkin at the Rose Garden Report).
“I’m just not interested in that. That’s not a secret,” Lillard said. “I want a chance to go for it. And if the route is to (draft youth), then that’s not my route.”
Portland has the players to take another big swing this offseason: A package of their first-round pick (currently fifth) plus a couple of future picks, Sharpe, and Simons gets the Trail Blazers in the conversation for any star who may be looking to change teams. Whether that is enough to get a player remains to be seen.
But if the Trail Blazers gut their depth to land another star, are they closer to contending? Even with Lillard playing at the All-NBA level he did this season, that’s a big ask. Especially in a conference where Memphis is close to contender status, Phoenix looks like a serious threat for years to come, and teams such as New Orleans and Oklahoma City are on the rise, Portland is going to have to make a massive leap to get in the dance. This season they couldn’t even make the play-in.
Maybe, at some point in future years, Lillard and Trail Blazers will sit down and come to a mutual understanding that it’s time to part ways. Maybe, maybe not. But this offseason, Lillard sounds like a guy who wants to stay put — and wants more help around him.