For a brief moment, it looked as if the Damian Lillard sweepstakes were preparing for take-off. However, that may no longer be the case — at least, for now. During a zoom interview with reporters at Team USA camp, The Trail Blazers star point guard denied a report stemming from Friday morning that he was gearing up to request a trade out of Portland.
“I woke up to those reports, a lot of people reaching out to me,” Lillard said, via Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report. “But it’s not true. I’ll start off the rip and say it’s not true. A lot of things are being said. It hasn’t come from me. I haven’t made any firm decision on what my future will be.”
Lillard added that he “expects” to be in a Blazers uniform next season. Then again, his following comments certainly appeared to leave the door open for a potential change down the road.
Lillard confirmed that he plans to meet with team general manager Neil Olshey and newly hired head coach Chauncey Billups in Las Vegas prior to the start of the Tokyo Olympics to discuss the direction of the Blazers and his future with the organization. The meeting was originally scheduled for Friday prior to trade request speculations arising, per ESPN’s Frank Isola.
Lillard made it public knowledge that he believes the organization must improve upon its current roster, calling for the Blazers to “be urgent about our next step and how we move forward.”
“We’ve made the playoffs all these years. We’re not a bad team, we’re a good team,” he added. “It’s a lot of positives. But we’ve reached that point where it’s not enough. I don’t know how you can say this is a championship team.”
Henry Abbott of True Hoop had originally reported that sources close to Lillard claimed he will request a trade in the “days to come.”
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Celtics are in a ‘Good Position’ to Make a Run at Lillard
If or when Lillard requests a trade, there will undoubtedly be a plethora of teams lining up in hopes of yielding the services of the six-time All-Star. The aforementioned Sixers, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors have all been floated as prominent landing spots for the point guard, via Real GM. However, as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix highlighted in an interview with WEEI’s Tanguay and Hart back in June, it may very well be the Boston Celtics who possess the best bargaining chip in a potential deal involving Lillard.
“You could put Jaylen Brown as the centerpiece of a deal that would include all the young guys on your roster plus future draft picks as well,” Mannix said. “So I think it’s possible. If Portland shops him, Boston is going to be in a good position. If you look around, Bradley Beal is not going to go to Portland because he’s not going to re-sign there. You have to get guys to Portland that are on long-term contracts, and Jaylen Brown is one of those young guys, 24 years old, that would fit that bill.”
It also likely doesn’t hurt Boston’s case that star forward Jayson Tatum is currently playing alongside Lillard as a member of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team — a scenario that may not have occurred had it not been for an extra nudge from Tatum. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Celtics’ franchise cornerstone played a part in convincing Lillard to commit to the Tokyo Olympics.
Lillard was also in communication with Boston Celtics wing Jayson Tatum, who put off his decision on Team USA for some time after the season ended to evaluate his offseason priorities. Tatum was on the 2019 World Cup team that finished a disappointing seventh, in part because Tatum sprained his ankle in pool play.
When it was clear how the team was shaping up, Tatum’s uncertainty faded and he committed, sources said.
Tatum and Lillard haven’t been the only two in their respective families to join forces for Team USA. Their children have also been kicking it together. Tatum’s son, Duece, was seen getting a play session in with Lillard’s son, as well as Bradley Beal’s children in Las Vegas during a pre-Tokyo Olympics scrimmage (h/t to Reddit user /ShampooMonK).
Is the Writing on the Wall?
Of course, news of the 31-year-old potentially wanting out shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for those following the Lillard-Blazers saga that has unfolded in front of our eyes in recent months. The fallout from Portland’s head coaching search, as well as their inability to build a true contender around Lillard, has seemingly nicked the veteran’s undying loyalty to the franchise that selected him sixth overall a near-decade ago.
Following Portland’s first-round exit from the playoffs — their fifth first-round exit over the last seven seasons — the team parted ways with long-time coach Terry Stotts. With a vacancy at the helm, Lillard publicly endorsed Billups and eventual Dallas Mavericks hire, Jason Kidd, for the gig. The Blazers ultimately sided with the former as their choice, hiring Billups despite a sexual assault allegation from 1997 resurfacing during the process. Lillard admitted on Twitter that he wasn’t aware of the allegations against Billups prior to endorsing the former Finals MVP. Still, that didn’t stop the loads of backlash he received for backing the new hire.
Just one day after Lillard’s tweet, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports hinted at the possibility of the Oakland native’s nine-year run with the Blazers possibly coming to an end.
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.