Damian Lillard reached another milestone this past week, surpassing 10,000 career points and becoming the fastest Portland Trail Blazers player to do it. As Lillard keeps writing his name into the organization’s record books and climbing over some the greatest and most beloved players in franchise history, it’s safe to say Lillard will become one of the all-time greats in Rip City. If he isn’t, already.
Congrats to @Dame_Lillard for passing Jerome Kersey for fifth all-time on the @trailblazers scoring list. Let’s flood his mentions to show our appreciation. #RipCity #LillardTime pic.twitter.com/LalVYi2UHs
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) February 9, 2018
But, just how much an all-time great can he be? Can he surpass players like Clyde Drexler or Bill Walton?
While Lillard will almost undoubtedly have the stats to put him into the upper echelon of Blazers greats, there is one achievement that is still lacking that may keep him from becoming a legend on the same level as Drexler or Walton; a memorable playoff run.
It’s not that Lillard is lacking in playoff moments. Who will ever forget this?
I remember this moment like it was yesterday, just as I remember leaping out of my couch, jumping up and down and screaming hysterically. It was a singular moment of greatness. But, it’s not enough.
One of the reasons why Walton, whose Blazers career was short, and Drexler, whose career in Portland was much longer, are both equally revered is that they gave us moments that lasted longer than .9 seconds. They led teams deep into the playoffs and gave us months of hand-wrenching, couch-leaping moments.
The Drexler-era Blazers included two trips to the NBA Finals while Walton won a title in 1977. Those memories, and how they transformed the city and its people, are not be taken lightly when considering who is a franchise great and in what order.
I recall when the Blazers made it to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. There was a collective unity that bound the city together. There was electricity flowing through the city’s veins, a sense of excitement felt even by those who weren’t fans of basketball. Every Blazers game was like Christmas morning.
We got a glimpse of that again in 1999 and 2000 when the Blazers made it to the Western Conference Finals. But, even those deep playoff marches paled in comparison to the adrenaline infused exhilaration of making it to the final round, where the promise of the long-awaited sequel to the ’77 parade in downtown seemed so close.
There is something about the playing deep into Spring that stats cannot equal. Playing in June beats a buzzer beater in May any day. But, the Blazers haven’t won a conference championship in over 25 years. It’s been over 15 years since they have even participated in one. If Lillard truly wants to be considered a Mt. Rushmore great, he needs to help end that drought. He needs to give us something that many younger fans today have never felt.
However, a memorable playoff run does not fully rest on the shoulders of Lillard. So far, Neil Olshey and the front office have failed to put anything close to a title-contending team around him. CJ McCollum is really good, but it remains to be seen if he’s the number two guy the Blazers need to make a run. Nurkic Fever has been little more than the sniffles this season, but he’s still young. The Blazers have a ton of money locked up on players who haven’t played anywhere near their paycheck status. The road to building a championship-caliber team seems more like an unlit, dead-end alley filled with cash considerations.
At age 27, nearly the same age as Drexler was when he went to his first NBA Finals, the Blazers seem destined to waste Lillard’s prime years. The NBA trade deadline has once again come and gone and the Blazers have nothing to show for it except for scrapping Noah Vonleh in order to escape the luxury tax. Congrats, Paul Allen. If the Blazers’ grand plan is to be the 6th to 8th seed in the playoffs for the next five years, they are executing it perfectly.
Lillard has the potential to be an all-time great. He’s nearly there, with his fingertips on the cusp of being a legend. But, he needs to give us a memory that is more than just a great YouTube video. He needs to define a moment in time that will ripple throughout the history and future of the Trail Blazers.
Lillard has it in him to be the best Blazers player ever. It’s his time, now. He’s just got to make us feel something in June, first.