Bill Simmons: Damian Lillard ‘Third Best Blazer Ever’

The Portland Trail Blazers superstar is all the news this NBA offseason following his trade request from the only franchise he has played for during his 11-season career. If Portland trades Lillard and he never plays for Rip City again, how will the dust settle on his time with the franchise?

Will the seven-time All-Star go down as the greatest Blazer in franchise history?

It’s a proclamation that has seemingly become widely accepted as basketball fact after Lillard set the all-time franchise scoring record last December, passing Clyde Drexler and increasing his total to 19,376 points at the end of the season.

But on his latest podcastsaid the Caller’s Bill Simmons not so fast! In an eight-minute monologue, the NBA historian and Boston sports fanatic argued that Lillard wasn’t even the first or second best in franchise history.

“I’m going to be the old guy for a second. There’s been a lot of stuff about Damian Lillard being the greatest Blazer ever. I’ve seen it in multiple places. I’ve heard people say it on TV, which I thought, follow basketball. I’ve seen it in print. It seems to be the general consensus that he’s the best Blazer of all time. He’s the third best Blazer of all time.”

When looking at the top finish in Blazers history, Simmons said people have to consider the only player to ever bring a championship to the franchise: legendary center Bill Walton, who played for the Blazers from 1974 to 1978.

“I think [Bill Walton] is the biggest ‘what if?’ guy over the past 50 years. He was the best player on the planet for 18 months. How we feel about Jokic right now, we felt about Bill Walton the whole ’77 season into the first 60 games of ’78 when they went 50-10 and he got hurt and that was it. When I did it [“The Book of Basketball”] I had him in, I think in the low 30s [of greatest NBA player rankings] because [of] the fact that he won a title in Portland with a team built around everything he was good at. On paper, perhaps the greatest center ever in terms of overall package. [Bill] Russell is the biggest center. [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] is the second best center. But if you’re just talking about tools and ceiling and what a center can do on both ends, everything, do things [Nikola] Jokic did it in the playoffs combined with shot blocking and rebounding – he has to be the best Blazer ever. He is the only one to win them a title. Pardon. It wins.”

Going down the list, Simmons said Lillard not only took the team the longest it’s ever gone, but also didn’t have the greatest sustained career in Portland. For that answer, Simmons turned to Drexler, who pulled Portland to within two NBA finals for more than 11 seasons with the franchise from 1983 to 1995.

“This is where I become the old guy. What [expletive]? Clyde Drexler. Were any of you up for it? Clyde Drexler was great. I have Clyde Drexler right now on my pyramid as a 52 and I have Dame in the low 70s. Clyde was MVP runner-up in ’92 to Jordan. I think [Lillard] was fourth once. Clyde reached two finals in 1990 and ’92 during, in my opinion, the most competitive time in league history: 1990 to 1993. Clyde and the Blazers beat Lakers, they dethroned the Lakers. Only two teams did it in the entire 80s in the West: the ’86 Rockets, who were a complete fluke with [Ralph] Sampson and Hakeem [Olajuwon], and then the ’90 Blazers. Clyde was roughly 25 [points]seven [rebounds] and seven [assists] because it felt like eight [or] nine years. … He was the second best guard of [Michael] Jordan’s entire generation. He made the All-NBA team – first team once, second team twice, third team three times.”

… “He’s one of those guys who’s a bit like Dame. If he’s your best guy, I’m not sure you win the title, but if he’s your second best guy, like he was in Houston in ’95, he’s overqualified. He’s like the 1B superstar.”

After supporting Drexler’s All-NBA honors as evidence for his argument, it should be noted that Simmons did not mention Lillard’s All-NBA team selections, which include one first-team selection, four second-team selections and two third-team selections.

Simmons concluded his argument with a brief public service announcement about recent bias, and a look at some of Lillard’s legacy accomplishments and how they stack up. Note: Lillard has played in 769 games with Portland over 11 seasons, while Drexler has played in 869 games over approximately 11.5 seasons with Portland.

“The point is, we need to stop acting like basketball started when LeBron [James] or Kobe [Bryant] came into the league. You can’t say Dame is the best Portland Trail Blazer ever when Drexler was on the Portland Trail Blazers. Dame has never won a game in the conference finals, so he reached the conference finals once, they were swept. His career just hasn’t been as good as Clyde’s thus far, and he’s actually played fewer years than Clyde did in Portland. He had the two walk-off playoff series winning shots, he is one of the best 3-point shooters of all time. They’ve had some bad luck on the team from a roster standpoint and I don’t begrudge Dame, but when people start throwing ‘biggest’ around, you just have to do some research. Clyde Drexler was great. … We always talk about ‘legacy, legacy, legacy’. Drexler’s legacy was really good, and we’re talking about it wrong, so maybe legacy doesn’t mean as much as we thought.”

The “Great Blazer Ever” debate is one that may have no objective answer and will likely continue to be debated until the end of time. But what do you think of Simmons’ take on the subject? Is he on the money, or is he a Blazers outsider who doesn’t fully understand the nuances of the franchise and the discussion?

Sound off in the comments below.

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