After much speculation last season regarding the future of Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, the two sides decided to run it back once more in 2021-22. However, that decision may be looking like it will come back to bite them. Lillard is currently sidelined with an abdominal injury, and talk has begun surrounding the possibility of shutting him down for the remainder of the season. While also playing one of the worst seasons of his career, is it finally time that both sides face the facts and move onto their respective next phases.
Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers must go their separate ways
At @BleacherReport: Shutting Damian Lillard down to address his lingering abdomen injury and do a one-year franchise reset is the clear path forward for the Blazers—and the likely next step in the coming days https://t.co/esLU7WzS7h
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) January 10, 2022
Pressing Pause on Dame Time
“Don't be surprised if Damian Lillard has played his last game of the 2021-22 NBA season.”
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) January 10, 2022
Damian Lillard has been dealing with the same abdominal injury as he had during the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics, where he underwhelmed in the tournament like he has in 2021-22. Since then, Lillard has now missed two stretches of games, playing just nine games between both absences. It is apparent that something is wrong with Dame at the moment, and it reflects in his play on the floor.
According to Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report, this injury is nothing new for Damian Lillard, as he’s been dealing with it long before this past summer’s Olympic Games. Lillard states that his abdomen injury has been lingering for about three or four seasons now, and while he was able to keep it under wraps and still play at an elite level, it is clearly now a big factor on the court.
Teammate CJ McCollum has also missed extensive time on the shelf, dealing with a pneumothorax, or a collapsed right lung, which has also heavily impacted Portland’s struggles. Missing their starting backcourt, Portland has gotten help from some of its key role players, such as Anfernee Simons and Norman Powell. But the star duo steers the direction of the team, and when they are both out for long periods of time, the team’s playoff chances significantly decrease.
Blow Up The Blazers
We’ve seen this same song and dance from the Blazers year after year now. While they have managed to reach the playoffs on a consistent basis, they have not gone much farther than the first or second round, despite their Western Conference Finals showing against the Golden State Warriors in 2019, where they were quickly disposed of in four games.
Damian Lillard has provided a handful of memorable moments in the playoffs, including his infamous buzzer-beating heave from three to send the Oklahoma City Thunder packing in 2019. However, the Blazers have never been a legitimate threat to exit the West bracket as Conference winners. How much longer can they afford to tread water?
One thing that has been clear during this run of the Blazers since Dame was drafted, is that the front office has failed him. As of now, they have the 11th highest payroll at -$35.8 million, and 9th in active cap space. They have hovered in this cap space territory for years now, and in 2019-20, they were even first in active cap on the roster, despite clearly not having a championship caliber team.
This is a continued result of bad contracts not paying off for Portland, year after year. In addition to that, the front office hired a rookie head coach in Chauncey Billups, who although an intellectual basketball mind with playing experience, is forced to lead a non-rebuilding team with high expectations. On a rebuilding roster, maybe Billups is a good bet to show the young guys the ins and outs of the league. But Damian Lillard is not on a rebuilding timeline, and that decision was poor from the start.
Dame’s Loyalty Has Been Proven
Damian Lillard says staying loyal is a harder challenge than winning any championship pic.twitter.com/TWeDiwpBxw
— Ballsack Sports ® (@BallsackSports) January 10, 2022
No one can critique Damian Lillard’s loyalty to the Blazers. In a league where player loyalty has been put on the back-burner time and time again, Lillard has given his all for the city of Portland, perhaps to a fault. After coming up short yet again last season, the possibility of Damian Lillard leaving via trade became more and more real. However, the franchise has not expressed any interest in trading the six-time All-Star, and Lillard has not shown any willingness to be traded. Perhaps this way of thinking should change sooner than later.
While it may not be the most popular route to take amongst the fan’s opinions, it takes two or more stars to win in this league nowadays. There is just too many talent in the league now for a player to win on their own, outside of an elite short list including LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Kawhi Leonard. Other than that, players often look to team up.
If Damian Lillard is serious about adding a ring to his legacy, he is going to have to do it sooner than later. He is still an elite player that provides high volume offense when healthy, and can be a more than capable running mate to any star in the league that needs him. While Dame and the front office can tell the media whatever they feel, they would be foolish not to explore the idea of blowing up the team and starting from scratch.
What Does The Future Hold For Dame?
Lillard, 31, still has plenty of good basketball ahead of him. Whether that is in Portland, or in a larger market in contention for a ring, there is still place for Damian Lillard in this league. Though, the clock is ticking before Dame Time runs out.
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