Damian Lillard wants a trade now?

The Portland Trail Blazers will miss the playoffs for the second straight year. What does this mean for the Blazers and superstar Damian Lillard’s future?

When Damian Lillard arrived at his press conference on Sunday night local time, it was something of a funeral. The point guard answered all questions professionally, but spoke very quietly and even seemed absent. It was also clear to him that the playoff train was as good as gone after the two home defeats against Boston and the Clippers. “We’re getting close to the point where you have to ask yourself whether it makes sense to keep chasing every win,” said Lillard, who had been combative in recent weeks and wiped any tanking debates off the table.

But reality has caught up with Portland. It rained three home defeats in a row, since the All-Star Break only Houston, Orlando and Detroit have been beaten. The gap to tenth place is already 4 games (with eleven games left), and the point guard’s All-NBA season will not change that. At the age of 32, Lillard has 32.2 points and 7.2 assists, it is by far the most efficient season of his career and yet the focus will soon be on the draft lottery.

“We’re not crazy. We see that the other teams have a cushion and we’ve lost a few games in a row. We’re almost out unless we win every game now,” explained Lillard. He no longer believes in it either.

What’s next for the Blazers, who have won just three playoff games since advancing to the 2019 Conference Finals and are now in danger of missing the postseason entirely for the second straight year?

Will Damian Lillard call for a trade?

The first reflex, of course, is to question Lillard’s loyalty. At the age of 32, he should be at the peak of his career without being able to show more than the one mentioned conference finals participation. After an injury-plagued preseason, Lillard reminded the NBA world that he was still one of the best guards in the league.

Lillard probably won’t be leaving Portland of his own free will, according to what he said on the podcast with JJ Redick a few days ago. In just over five minutes, the guard sharply criticized the “Ringz Culture” (Click in, these five minutes are worth it). Lillard emphasized once again that his personal luck is not linked to a possible deep playoff run. “I have a real life. I go home to my kids. (…) My life doesn’t depend on the NBA because I have real friends off the field.”

There has been speculation about a Lillard departure for years, instead the seven-time All-Star has always extended his contract. Like last summer, Lillard’s deal now runs through 2027, including a $63.2 million player option last season.

The coming season is already 45.6 million, which would make a deal complicated anyway. It seems Lillard will only leave Portland, as Kevin Garnett did, who almost had to be pushed to his own (sporting) fortune by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Portland Trail Blazers: What Went Wrong?

The Blazers were cautiously optimistic going into the season, even though Las Vegas set the over/under line at just 39.5 wins. The start was promising (10-4), although Portland had some shooting luck. New signing Jerami Grant turned out to be a real reinforcement, and the second unit with Justise Winslow worked as a small ball center.

However, numerous injuries followed (once again). Winslow made just 29 games, forward Nassir Little was out, and so the Blazers only had two players taller than six feet at one point. The fact that Gary Payton II was also never really fit meant that head coach Chauncey Billups was forced to give the youngsters minutes. Billups tried 22 different starting lineups, but there was no real continuity.

The changes to the trade deadline did not work either. Josh Hart has fallen out of favor with fans for his allergy to attempting three-pointers, but he’s making waves in New York. Cam Reddish, Matisse Thybulle and Kevin Knox came in for him and Payton II.

It can be said that GM Joe Cronin failed to establish a stable defense around Lillard. Portland are once again among the worst defensive teams in the league and continue to be too dependent on the Superstar’s exploits offensively. The Blazers have been a crack record for years, no matter how shuffled the roster has been in recent seasons.

What decisions are the Blazers facing?

And it’s likely that the Blazers will tweak their roster this offseason. The focus is on Grant, whose contract is about to expire. The forward confirmed in January that the Blazers had offered him a four-year, $112 million early extension, but he turned it down.

But that doesn’t have to mean anything. “I’ll probably speak to management after the season,” Grant said The Athletic. “I like it here,” said the winger, who averaged 20 points over the season in splits of 47/40/81. The 29-year-old is probably one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, also because he fills a valuable position.

The Blazers also have two prospective restricted free agents in Reddish and Thybulle. While the two newcomers weren’t game changers, they filled their roles solidly and should be kept at a bearable rate. This team can always use depth on the wing, and Thybulle is definitely valuable as a guard defender. Other free agents include Winslow, Ryan Arcidiacono and Drew Eubanks, who started a few games as a center in Nurkic’s absence. But the 25-year-old couldn’t really recommend himself.

Portland Trail Blazers: This is what the Cap Sheet looks like

player (age) 22/23 23/24 24/25 25/26 26/27
Damien Lillard (32) 42.5 45.6 48.8 58.5 63.2*
Anfernee Simons (23) 22.3 24.1 25.9 27.7 UFA
Jerami Grant (28) 20.9 UFA
Yusuf Nurkic (28) 15.6 16.9 18.1 19.4 UFA
Shaedon Sharpe (19) 6.0 6.3 6.6** 8.4**
Cam Reddish (23) 5.9 RFA
Matisse Thybulle (25) 4.4 RFA
Nasir Little (22) 4.2 6.3 6.8 7.3 7.8
Justin Winslow (26) 4.1 UFA
Kevin Knox (23) 3.0 3.0**
Keon Johnson (20) 2.7 2.8 4.5**
Ryan Arcidiacono (28) 1.8 UFA
Drew Eubanks (25) 1.8 UFA
Trendon Watford (22) 1.6 1.8*** 2.0**
Jabari Walker (20) 1.0 1.7*** 2.0***

* Player option, ** Team option, *** not guaranteed, all figures in million dollars

Portland Trail Blazers: Where needs improvement?

The center position is the key for Portland. Nurkic has been a constant over the years and is a good friend of Lillard’s, but the Bosnian just can’t get through a season without injuries. Nurk is a good offensive center, but that’s not what Portland needs. Anyone who sets up a backcourt of Lillard and Simons needs a good defensive big behind them, Nurkic is and never was.

In the summer, the “Bosnian Beast” extended by four years and $ 70 million, but Nurkic was unable to increase its value with a mediocre season. However, there are no real alternatives on the free agency market, and Portland has no capspace available for this – unless no agreement can be reached with Grant. In that case Jakob Pöltl (Raptors) would probably be the most interesting name.

What the blazers also lack is length in the backcourt. Lillard only played with a defensive first guard (Wesley Matthews) at the beginning of his career, such a player type should be sought again. But they don’t grow on trees either, sensible options would be, for example, Donte DiVincenzo (Warriors), Dillon Brooks (Grizzlies) or Josh Richardson (Pelicans), who has lived on his good reputation since his days in Miami.

Of course, there is also a chance of getting a high draft pick. Currently, the Blazers hold the sixth-best odds of the first pick and the right to draft Victor Wembanyama (click here for the SPOX mock draft). And let’s put it this way: Portland wouldn’t be a bad fit for the 19-year-old.

Portland Trail Blazers: How Warm Is Chaucey Billups Chair?

The record of the former Finals MVP does not speak for him, at the same time the new coach worked under difficult conditions. The squad was completely turned inside out, there were always injuries, and there was also the somewhat unclear owner situation after Paul Allen’s death almost five years ago.

On the other hand, Billups failed to orchestrate a defense that was at least not devastating, even though he started with exactly that goal. “I’m not worried about my job,” said the former All-Star a few days ago. “We exchanged ideas, but I don’t want to say anything about the content.”

The players also backed the coach. “I would walk through a wall for him,” said Grant and Lillard also expressed his support: “He’s obviously competent, but we also have to see who he’s working with here. We have a young team and that’s not for a coach easy, especially if it’s his first job.”

Ultimately, it is already clear from all sides that the squad did not have the necessary quality. It’s the same old story with Portland, although the unwanted losing streak could turn out to be a fluke. Last year, a “fantastic” tank job was only enough for the seventh pick, this time the chances are better despite 31 victories (four more than last year). It may be the last chance in the Lillard era to put a (coming) star at the guard’s side.


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