Damian Lillard has been one of the most loyal superstars in the NBA over the past decade, but his patience with the Portland Trail Blazers appears to be wearing thin, and his future with the only club he’s ever known seems in doubt.
Lillard has grown frustrated with the process surrounding the team’s search for a new head coach, and has concerns about his ability to ever contend for a title in Portland, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo:
The enormous backlash from the Portland Trail Blazers’ process to hire a new coach and his concerns on whether a championship contender can be built have become factors that may push the franchise player — Damian Lillard — out the door, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Lillard has remained loyal to Portland in large part due to the tremendous fan base. But over the last few days, he’s seen some of those same fans attacking him on social media for a pending coaching hire he played no part in consummating, sources said.
At this point, a move does not seem imminent. There is no indication that Lillard has submitted a trade request or has made it known to the front office that he’d like to leave. Still, that fact that he’s reportedly upset enough to consider going elsewhere is significant.
Please check the opt-in box to acknowledge that you would like to subscribe.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
There are two factors at play here, so it’s worth diving into them separately.
1. Controversial coaching hire
Shortly after they were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the fourth time in five seasons, the Blazers parted ways with long-time head coach Terry Stotts.
In the initial aftermath, there were reports that Lillard would have significant input on the next head coach, and he told Yahoo Sports, “Jason Kidd is the guy I want.” Later on, he amended that slightly, telling The Athletic, “I like J. Kidd and Chauncey [Billups].
Kidd rather quickly withdrew his name from consideration, reportedly because he felt uncomfortable with Lillard’s public request for him to be the next coach. However, Kidd’s decision also came amid backlash from Blazers fans about his previous domestic violence incident. He also likely knew he would be a favorite for the Dallas Mavericks job, and has since reached a deal to be their new coach.
With Kidd out of the picture, the Blazers turned their attention to Billups, who has been officially hired as their next head coach. That initial decision to strongly consider Billups had also generated vociferous negative reaction from fans, both in Portland and around the league.
In 1997, when Billups played for the Boston Celtics, he was accused of raping a woman and the disturbing details of that case have resurfaced in recent weeks. Billups was never charged or convicted of a crime, and later settled a civil lawsuit with the woman.
Women in Portland have spoken out against the impending decision to hire Billups, and there’s been plenty of commentary on Twitter — some of which placed blame on Lillard. The All-Star point guard even got involved in a back-and-forth about the situation, in which he attempted to defend himself. He said he wasn’t aware of the accusation against Billups, and seemed to suggest that his preferred choices were based on options given to him from the front office.
Despite the controversy, the Blazers are moving forward with Billups. While it’s unclear exactly how much sway Lillard had in the process, the events of the past few days have seemingly damaged his relationship with the franchise and the city.
2. Inability to contend for a title
While Lillard is frustrated with the events surrounding the coaching hire, that isn’t his only concern. He’s also starting to question whether the team will ever put a title contender around him.
Since his rookie season, the Blazers have gone to the playoffs eight straight times. However, during that span they’ve never won more than 54 games, and have been eliminated in the first round five times. Their 2019 run to the Western Conference finals, which ended in a sweep against the Golden State Warriors, was the only time they got past the second round.
Injuries have played a role to be sure, but the truth is the Blazers just haven’t been talented enough. Apologies to CJ McCollum, but they’ve never found a true second star to play alongside Lillard, and have often been one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
As a result, Lillard has been forced to run a one-man show at various points during this run. Never more so than Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets this season, when he put up 55 points and 10 assists in a double-overtime loss. He scored 17 of their 19 overtime points in that game, and went 6 of 8 from the field while the rest of the team went 1 of 14.
Set to turn 31 years old later this summer, the clock is now ticking on Lillard’s prime. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he decides he wants to play it out elsewhere.