Damian Lillard has been one of the most prolific scorers the league has seen in the past decade. He has come up with clutch buckets and an umpteen number of memorable moments that have left fans on the edge of their seats.
Dame has single-handedly carried the Portland Trail Blazers into the post-season and has come up short time and again. Last season's first-round exit to the Denver Nuggets was reported to have been the straw that broke the camel's back. There were plenty of rumors swirling around Lillard's future during the off-season. Multiple trade scenarios involving the star guard were being discussed by analysts, former players and fans alike.
Portland were on the backfoot and had to do something to make sure they retained their franchise cornerstone and fan favorite. They replaced long-time Blazers coach Terry Stotts with NBA legend Chauncey Billups, with whom Dame shares a prior relationship. The Blazers also made other off-season moves, such as bringing in former Cleveland Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. along with a couple of other fringe players in an attempt to retool the roster.
These moves looked like solid roster additions, but none had the gravity to change Portland's situation. It only makes it seem like Portland were destined to lose Lillard sooner rather than later. It was a matter of when and not if when it came to Dame's trade.
However, Damian Lillard, being the impeccable human being he is, seems to have made it abundantly clear that he would stick with Portland. His stance showcased his loyalty to the franchise that drafted him and to the fans who adore him. Dame Dolla looks set to lead Portland to the promised land, drawing inspiration from Giannis Antetokounmpo's championship run after resigning with the Bucks.
Dame sat down with ESPN's Mallika Andrews to explain the reason behind his decision. Lillard attributed his relationship with head coach Chauncey Billups as a key factor in him wanting to stay in Portland. Here is what he had to say:
I just wanted it to be clear. It’s not one of those situations where I’m waiting for some adversity to hit… The last thing I’m thinking about is waiting for it to get tough and then bailing out on Chauncey.
Portland look to have avoided a huge off-season debacle but are in for a tough ride if things don't seem to click quickly. Loyalty can only get you so far before you start putting winning before anything else, LeBron and Kevin Durant's situations are ideal examples.
Can Damian Lillard guide the Portland Trail Blazers to a deep 2021-22 post-season run?
Damian Lillard has dominated night in and night out and is most likely expected to vault himself into the MVP conversation with yet another brilliant performance this season. However, his teammates such as CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic will have to step up if Portland are to have team success in a loaded Western Conference.
The West has always been highly competitive but more so this time around, with the Lakers acquiring Russell Westbrook to pair with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Warriors, too, are strong and are expecting the return of Klay Thompson. The Suns will be looking to do one better than last time and Denver is looking to avenge their Conference Finals defeat to the Suns.
It is a tall order for Portland and Lillard to conquer, and this increasingly looks like yet another first-round exit. It will end up leading to huge off-season moves to finally get Lillard a co-star capable of putting them in the Finals conversation. That is unless Dame Dolla pulls off some magic and leaves us stunned, which he is more than capable of doing.
Q. Can Portland make it past the first round of the playoffs?