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Damian Lillard turns up the pressure

The point guard spoke about his situation in an interview with Stephen A. Smith: “If we don’t make a competitive team, there will be decisions to make...”

The point guard spoke about his situation in an interview with Stephen A. Smith: “If we don’t make a competitive team, there will be decisions to make...”

The Trail Blazers need an identity. For years, it was Damian Lillard and his loyal relationship that embodied their identity, the culture, the franchise... He was a star truly committed to the cause - even if the results never managed to arrive (the 2019 conference final is still the high point). But Lillard will turn 33 in July and is under contract (with player option last season) until 2027. The figures are enough to make anyone feel dizzy - this season, he has has taken home $42.3 million and for the next four he is guaranteed a further $216 million.

The Blazers ended up throwing away the season (ending on 33-49) and with the absence of better compensation, at least ended with better options in the 2023 draft. A meagre prize as far as Lillard is concerned - he averaged 32.2 points and 7.3 assists in what turned out to be one of his worst seasons with the team. The Blazers continue to move around pieces without really finding a way to build a team that best complements their star player. Now he is thinking about whether it’s time to move on - a scenario that would have been unimaginable just a couple of years ago. Even before his team decided to give up on the the season, Lillard made it clear that he is totally against the practice of tanking. In his end-of-year interview, he assured that he no longer has “the patience to rebuild” and to see “players two or three years away from being able to really compete” by his side. Now, in a conversation with Stephen A. Smith, he has been even clearer:

Not an ultimatum, says Lillard

“It ain’t a threat. I ain’t gonna say I’m putting them on the clock. I’m just saying if those things can’t be done, if we can’t do something significant like that, then we won’t have a chance to compete on that level,” he explained. “And then, not only will I have a decision to make, but I think the organization will, too. Because at that point, it’s like, ‘Are you gonna go young, or are we gonna get something done?’ I think we just kinda been on the fence with fully committing to either one. I just think we at that point now where everybody wants to win. They believe I deserve that opportunity.”

The feeling is that time is running out on the Lillard-Blazers relationship. Information suggests that a draft pick, which will be high, will be traded in search of a star to accompany Lillard. Unless, of course, the number 1, Victor Wembanyama falls. Some voices in the team environment believe that such a move would be a mistake, and that it is time to face an inevitable reconstruction and end the relationship with Lillard in the best possible way and build around Anfernee Simons (23 years old), Shaedon Sharpe (19) and whoever joins as the first round pick.

The Heat on alert

And, as always when a star hints they might be looking for a change of scenery, there is already a candidate with an interest: Miami Heat is the franchise on the lips of all specialized journalists who feel Lillard would be the ideal fit. Pat Riley is looking for extra punch that he hasn’t been able to find in recent markets. But if Lillard really breaks into the market, the list of suitors will be long... Despite his age and his contract. It is a question of talent.


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