Damian Lillard is right there with some of the brightest stars in the league in 2021. This includes players like James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic. Besides being some of the best, most talented, most fun-to-watch players right now, what else do Dame and these guys have in common? They all have yet to win an NBA Championship.
Since his rookie year, Dame hasn’t missed the playoffs with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he has only gotten out of the first round three times and to the conference finals once. So, the question becomes, can Dame win a championship in Portland? Or, if he really wants one, will he have to go somewhere else?
How the Trailblazers Can Win a Title
To figure out how the Lillard and the Blazers could win a title, you can look at the last (full) NBA season in 2018-19, where they made it to the Western Conference finals. CJ McCollum had a nice series versus the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, but Dame put the team on his back and willed them to a victory in Game 5 with a 50-point outing that included a 37-foot three at the buzzer to ice the series.
Following that dramatic series win, the Blazers again went the distance with the Denver Nuggets. This series will most be remembered for the Blazer pulling out an epic 4 OT win in Game 3. However, Dame and McCollum once again shined in this series, with the latter putting up 41, 37, and 29 points. They would be swept in the next round by the Golden State Warriors though even without Kevin Durant.
These days, as tough as the West is, there doesn’t seem to be a team as good as the 18-19 Warriors. Lillard and McCollum can score with any duo in the league and, if the matchups fall right and these two get hot, there isn’t a team in the league that would be guaranteed to beat them. It would take a long, extended run for this to happen, but if any guard combo could do it, it’s these two.
Why the Trail Blazers Won’t Win a Title
Injuries and defense. The Blazers are talented enough, top to bottom, and have the stars at the top to win a championship, but these two issues have and will likely continue to prevent them from doing so. CJ McCollum has played 80 games or more just three times in his career, while Jusuf Nurkic has never played more than 79. To win a championship, Portland would need these two to stay healthy for four rounds after a full season, and that doesn’t seem likely.
Defensively, the team suffers when those two are out. Dame isn’t the best defender either, and on the bench, with guys like Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, and Norman Powell, it’s no wonder the Blazers had the second-worst defensive rating in the entire league in 2020-21. The playoffs are all about getting stops, and the Blazers don’t get them.
Can Damian Lillard Win a Championship in Portland?
About a month before his 31st birthday, the NBA will crown its 20-21 champion. Chance are, Dame won’t be the one lifting that trophy. Will he ever win one in the black and red? With late 1st round draft picks and a capped-out roster for the next few years, it is hard to see the Blazers making a major leap in Dame’s next few years. They could trade McCollum or Nurkic for a more reliable wingman, but, at least with CJ, that seems unlikely too. The truth is, Dame and the Blazers are too good to break up or to hit it big in the draft but not quite good enough to win a title in Dame’s prime. If Damian Lillard ever wants to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy, he’ll likely have to do it in another uniform.