LeBron James and Anthony Davis scoured the NBA for a new point guard this offseason. They met with DeMar DeRozan before free agency began. They hosted Russell Westbrook for a meeting that eventually led to a trade to Los Angeles. Now, we can add a third major name to that list. As Chris Haynes detailed in an extensive story for Yahoo Sports, the two Lakers stars wined and dined Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard after both teams were eliminated from the playoffs.
Lillard claimed not to have categorized the meeting as a recruiting pitch, according to Haynes, “but rather an information-gathering forum among respected peers.” That sure sounds like a fancy way of saying he was recruited. His further detailing of the lunch shared between the three superstars further suggests some wooing.
“‘Bron asked what I was thinking with my situation, and I told him what I’m telling you: that I just want to be in a position to win it all,” Lillard said. “He painted the picture to me that if I were to leave, the situation could look like this. He didn’t tell me to come to L.A., and he didn’t say anything to me that I didn’t already know other than what it could look like. I told him, ‘I know if I were to play with y’all, I know it would work out because of my skill set,’ and who I am and who they are.”
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If discussing his fit with two players on another team doesn’t constitute recruiting, I’m not sure what would. James and Davis were certainly justified in coming after Lillard, though. A pick-and-roll point guard like him with infinite shooting range would be a perfect fit for a team that had been built around defense over the past two seasons. Lillard, coming off a disappointing first-round loss to an injured Denver Nuggets team, spoke openly about his frustrations and has made it clear that he considered leaving the Blazers before ultimately reaffirming his commitment. In his eyes, winning in Portland would just mean more than doing so everywhere else.
“When I think about how I want the people around me to be like, I try to be that as a Trail Blazer. It’s not always going to be peaches and cream. It’s not always going to look good. You’re not going to get the praise. It’s a small market. You’re going to miss out on certain things. S***, you may never win. But if I did decide to go do something else, there’s also no guarantee that I’m going to win it by moving on.
“So, my best bet is to stick to my guns and do what I care about in my heart. Now, if I was to move on and I get there and it doesn’t work out and then they decide to blow it up, and now I’m a part of a deal going somewhere else. You look at some of the dudes around the league that was at the top of their game and they made one move and now they’re on this team, next year on another team and now they’re somewhere completely different. As much as I want to win, I want to do it my way.”
Ultimately, this was all moot anyway. Even if Lillard had asked for a trade, there was no way the Lakers could have provided Portland satisfying compensation. They gave away most of their youth and draft capital landing Davis, and other teams surely would have outbid them for Lillard’s services. The Lakers were able to land Westbrook largely because he has flaws as a player that Lillard doesn’t. Lillard’s shooting makes him a fit on nearly any roster. Westbrook’s limitations in that department made him a risk that the Lakers could afford to take. That was never the case with Lillard.
Maybe Lillard knew that, and maybe it informed his decision not to pursue a trade. If anything, the more significant story here isn’t that James and Davis met with Lillard, but that Lillard was willing to speak up about what amounted to a failed recruiting pitch on the record so soon after it happened. Players tend to keep those conversations to themselves, but Lillard has spent the past several months publicly declaring his commitment to Portland. This is his latest attempt to do just that.