The year was 2017. THEY were once again sleeping on the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers ended up with 48 wins and the third seed in the brutal Western Conference, shutting down critics and keyboard warriors alike. Until…
Jrue Holiday happened.
The Blazers went on to drop the series in 0-4 fashion, but the bad news was just beginning. The offseason was just as bleh as the first round of the playoffs.
Now we’re just days away with more questions than answers as it pertains to the 2018-19 edition of Rip City Season. Jared Wright and Bryant Knox of Oregon Sports News are back with their in-depth Portland Trail Blazers 2018-19 Season Previews for each player.
Today, we take a look at Damian Lillard. The Man. The Man with The Shot.
The Man who has a massive contract extension on the line—The Man who will hear plenty of rumors about playing with The King this season.
Lillard’s numbers last season were among the best in the NBA. But as Jared Wright penned for Oregon Sports News, context is key:
“Lillard making the First Team was less a reward for all the work he did for Portland (last season was the first of Peak Lillard, so expect at least two or three more seasons like his last one) and more a referendum on the players above him in the point guard pecking order. Stephen Curry didn’t play enough games and shares the court with Kevin Durant. Chris Paul spent the first part of the season chilling in a banana boat somewhere. Kyrie Irving had his knee fall apart on him after the All-Star Break. Everyone felt dirty for giving Russell Westbrook the 2017 MVP, and overcompensated for their sins.”
The good news for Blazers fans is that context doesn’t take away the accomplishments. Lillard is a First Team All-NBA player, he represented Rip City in the All-Star Game, he reached the 9,000-point mark in the first game of the season—a mark that only nine other players had ever recorded in their entire Trail Blazers career—and he launched himself up to fourth in the all-time scoring rankings in Portland history (10,842).
Those are very good things.
The catch, of course, is that as great as the individual season was—and as great as the regular season was—hooooboyyy, was that playoff showing unbearable to watch.
In Round 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Blazers—and Lillard—were shown up White Men Can’t Jump style. Portland landed the ideal opponent. An inexperienced (for the most part) squad down its superstar center. It wasn’t supposed to be no thing but a chicken wing on a string—from Burger King.
As it turned out, the chump could ball. The Blazers got hustled.
Bummer for Lillard. Bummer for the Blazers.
What He Brings To The Table
At this point, we all know what Lillard brings to the Trail Blazers.
Elite scoring? Check. Deep threat? Check. Selfless style of play, positive locker room presence and scorer at the rim?
Check, check…you guessed it—check.
To write a scouting report for this specimen is to enable the uneducated. We’re not enablers.
If you haven’t seen Lillard play at this point, believe us: He’s very good. Google this man. YouTube: “Point Nine Seconds.”
That, or just take our word for it. We’re cool either way,
What To Expect In 2018-19
Barring health issues, Lillard is less than a season away from becoming the Trail Blazers’ second all-time scorer. He needs to average 20.9756 points per game over 82 contests to surpass LaMarcus Aldridge—or as NBA fans and regular human beings might deduce: 21 points per night. If he only plays 73 games, which is his career-low he set last season, that number needs to jump to 23.56.
But whether fair or not, Lillard’s situation in Portland is going to become national fodder at an increasing level, and it will have very little to do with his on-court performance.
LeBron James reportedly wants to play with Damian Lillard. https://t.co/5cPSyhX8bj pic.twitter.com/gZ4HTH0yEV
— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) October 16, 2018
Entering the 2017-18 season, it’s become clear that LeBron James wants Lillard on the Los Angeles Lakers. This isn’t the first time Lillard’s name has entered the rumor mill, but it’s one of the first times he’s been so closely associated with a player who has so much control over his own roster.
The Blazers are set to open their season Thursday night on TNT against LeBron and the Lakers, and while the Los Angeles is the enemy, Rip City fanatics better get used to alliteration.
Lillard, LeBron and Lakers are going to be connected all year.
There’s also Lillard’s contract situation. The 28-year-old has a chance to join Stephen Curry, James Harden, John Wall and Russell Westbrook in the uber-exclusive Supermax club this season.
In 2015, Lillard signed an extension with Portland worth $140 million over five years. This time around, if he makes an All-NBA team at least once over the next two seasons, he’ll be eligible for another five year extension, this time at $235 million—an average annual salary of $47 million.
Per Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin, Lillard continues to say the right things as it pertains to his roots in Rip City:
“For me, I have never asked for a trade or been in a position where I was like, ‘I’m going to tell them to trade me,’ because I’m all about the challenge,” Lillard said. “But there’s also the other side: My family is happy here, I’m happy with my situation here. So if a situation was ever to come up, or if I felt disrespected, or I wasn’t valued, or they felt like it was time for me to move on, then that would be the time. But I don’t feel that way.”
Thing is, the city of Portland has been burned before and Rip City is going to be anxious as Lillard’s name pops up in the news for reasons other than general awesomeness.
Big money on the line? The media will eat it up. Trade rumors? Only thing that would be better is if…yep—LeBron is involved.
Lillard will remain focused this year, and he’ll be just as much the All-Star and overall professional we’ve come to know in the Pacific Northwest. But deep down, it’s not that simple.
The 2018-19 campaign is important for Lillard, and even if Portland’s on-court storylines lack the same luster this season, there’s a lot on the line for the face of the franchise.