Lillard recommitted to the Trail Blazers when he signed a two-year, $122 million extension last offseason. However, he now faces the reality of another potential rebuild, and he’s not interested.
“I don’t have much of an appetite for bringing in guys two and three years away from really going after it,” Lillard told reporters during exit interviews after a season-ending loss to Golden State. “This is not a secret. I want a chance to go for it. And if the route is to do that, then that’s not my route.”
In an ever-changing NBA landscape, Lillard has remained loyal to the Trail Blazers organization. He has spent 10 seasons in Portland and built a legacy.
There was a string of eight consecutive postseason appearances. In 2018, Lillard led the Trail Blazers to a 53-29 record and a Western Conference Finals berth. He followed that up with his highest scoring output of 32.2 points per game this season.
Portland hasn’t followed Lillard in that progression. The organization has faltered in the last four seasons with a 137-173 record. Key contributors, like Lillard’s longtime backcourt mate CJ McCollum, were replaced with young, unproven talent.
The Trail Blazers are now at a crossroads.
Trail Blazers could add more young talent in 2023 NBA draft
With the potential to land a top-10 selection in the 2023 NBA draft, Portland can build for the future with another young standout, adding to a roster that includes emerging talent in Shaedon Sharpe, 19, Anfernee Simons, 23, and Trendon Watford, 22.
While those players are talented, Lillard, 32, doesn’t want to wait any longer for young players to develop into championship contenders.
“I think we get Shaedon at 19 and he’s just different. Just being around him, his disposition, how he listens, his frame, his natural talent and his ability,” Lillard said. “I think, that’s enough 19-year-olds. You probably don’t find one that will come along the way he has. I’m just not interested in that.”
Lillard spearheads a roster with just four players with at least five years of NBA experience. The other veterans are Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic and Justice Winslow.
“The goal is to get better as soon as possible,” Trail Blazers general manager Cronin said. “The pick itself, we’ll see where it lands. We’ll see what its value is. You have to go through that whole process, kind of like we did last year with the pick. But, timeline-wise, it’s time for us to start moving quicker towards having a roster that’s ready to compete at the highest level. So, if that means using that pick or other picks in deals, where it’s getting aggressive to go get stuff done, yeah, we’re open minded to that.”
The Trail Blazers will pick in the lottery and have another first-round selection, via the New York Knicks. Both picks are a chance to add future talent for the long haul.
Will Trail Blazers work the trade market?
Portland is not known as a major free-agent destination. The organization typically builds through the draft or with trades. The NBA trade market for top stars includes multiple first-round picks and elite young prospects.
For example, the Phoenix Suns gave up young players Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and a multitude of first-round picks for Kevin Durant.
Will Portland do the same for another star to put alongside Lillard?
According to Spotrac, Lillard will make $45.6 million next season. He can make upward of $63.2 million during the 2026-27 campaign.
“If we’re committed to winning now, we have to be able to live with what the future holds for some player that we’ve traded,” Cronin said.
Those are buzzworthy words to say at the beginning of the offseason. It can be completely different trying to actually make a move, according to Lillard.
“I’ve been in the league long enough to know that things don’t always work out the way you want to see it all work out,” Lillard said. “There’s a lot of moving pieces. So, I feel like over the last few years I go into it with these high expectations that it’s going to be different.
“I think that the optimism is there. I feel optimistic about it. But I think it’s just time to just get the work done for all of us.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Damian Lillard wants Portland Trail Blazers to ‘go for it’
Source: Yahoo Sports