Damian Lillard’s faith in the Portland Trail Blazers’ ability to build a championship contender around him has finally reached breaking point as the seven-time All-Star point guard requested a trade from the franchise that selected him No. 6 overall in 2012. NBA Draft, according to Yahoo Sports’ Vince Goodwill.
Lillard is owed $216.2 million over the next four seasons, including $63.2 million in the 2026-27 campaign.
The 32-year-old has long been one of the game’s most prolific goalscorers and his 2022-23 campaign was the best scoring season of his career. Lillard’s 32.2 points per game and 64.5% true-shooting clip last season were both career highs. He added 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 36.3 minutes a night for a 33-win team.
Over 11 seasons in Portland, Lillard has averaged 25-4-7 (on 44/37/90 shooting splits). He has exceeded each of those points-rebounds-assist numbers in three of the past four years. Lillard was remarkably healthy in the first decade of his career, never missing more than nine games in a single season, and the Blazers made the playoffs every year from 2014-21, culminating with a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2019.
In the last two years, Lillard has missed a total of 77 games (double the amount he missed in his previous 10 seasons), and Portland failed to make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the draft of him. Lillard missed the final 47 games of the 2021-22 season with an abdominal injury that required surgery. He sat out the final 10 games last season with a calf strain that also cost him three weeks earlier in the season.
It’s up for debate how much of Lillard’s absence can be attributed to Portland’s eagerness to get into a better lottery position. The Blazers drafted Shaedon Sharpe with the No. 7 pick in 2022, and they moved up to the No. 3 spot in this year’s draft. The youth movement didn’t match Lillard’s own timeline to contend.
Questions about Lillard’s commitment to the Blazers have been asked every year since their first of back-to-back opening-round playoffs in 2020 — and probably even before then. Each season, Lillard reaffirmed his loyalty to Portland, even through separate 2021 controversies involving the firing of general manager Neil Olshey and the hiring of head coach Chauncey Billups. The February 2022 trade of Lillard’s longtime backcourt partner, CJ McCollum, still didn’t affect his belief in Portland’s ability to build a winner.
Asked in September 2022 if he still envisioned spending his entire career in Portland, Lillard told The Dave Pasch Podcast, “I do.” He called himself “obviously a loyal person” who has rejected repeated calls from those around him to request a trade, feeling a title chase elsewhere would be less rewarding.
“I feel we have a chance to win,” he added. “I feel like that moment will come. I feel like that opportunity will come and this is it. As long as I feel like our organization is putting their best foot forward and we’re on the same page about doing everything we can do to win, then I’m willing to go out there and swing. … I want to win in Portland. It would mean something to me to do this. It means something to me, and I do.’ don’t say it with the expectation that they could never one day decide that, “Okay, we’re going to move on. What do you want to do?” This is me being loyal to who I am and how I feel and what I want to see happen. I would love to end my career here. That’s my plan and it’s that.”
The switch from McCollum to another, younger undersized shooting guard, Anfernee Simons, plus a pair of top-10 draft additions, signaled that the Blazers were no longer putting their best foot forward to win now.
It took Lillard seven years to make two playoff rounds in a single season, even though he entered the NBA as a four-year starter at Weber State and made the first of his seven All-NBA rounds in his second campaign with the Blazers. Sharpe, who turned 20 in May, graduated early from high school, redshirted his freshman year at Kentucky and entered the 2022 draft without ever playing a game at the collegiate level.
Our first indication that Lillard’s faith in the Blazers may be waning came earlier in June when he entertained several trade scenarios on Showtime’s The Last Stand Podcast. Asked about hypothetical deals for four rumored destinations — the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and New York Knicks — Lillard openly favored the Heat and Nets because of their respective relationships with Bam Adebayo and Mikal Bridges and both teams’ roster construction. Still, Lillard expected to start the 2023-24 season in Portland.
With Simons, Sharpe, this year’s No. 3 pick and future draft assets, Portland could pursue star-level players and continue to restructure the roster around Lillard. The idea that the franchise and arguably its greatest talent ever seem more comfortable turning the page should give suitors pause about paying Lillard $63.2 million when he’s 36 years old. His championship window may be shorter than his current contract.
Still, Lillard’s ability is more than enticing. He is a proven playoff commodity, averaging 34.3 points in his most recent series and twice ending an opponent’s season on series-winning buzzer beaters. He just hasn’t had horses to run with. Lillard hasn’t played with an All-Star since LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, when they won 51 games. McCollum was easily Lillard’s best teammate in the eight years since, and they also won 50 games together — despite a rotating cast of wings and a series of injuries to center Jusuf Nurkic.
Jerami Grant was the latest attempt to help Lillard at power forward, and he is an unrestricted free agent this season. Nurkic is owed $54.4 million over the next three seasons, a contract that is among the league’s most restrictive. So this summer was supposed to be one of the big changes in Portland. The Blazers had their choice to reload or rebuild, and their decision made Lillard’s a lot easier.