Why Damian Lillard Should Leave Portland and Where He Should Go
When the Portland Trail Blazers announced the hiring of former NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups as their new head coach to a 5-year deal over the weekend, it made things in the Pacific Northwest VERY interesting... Not because the Trail Blazers are going to build some dynasty around the extremely talented backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum – but because Dame D.O.L.L.A. may not have agreed to this hire in the first place…
In fact, it’s become pretty apparent that he is NOT happy with this coaching hire at all… As of the publication of this article, every NBA GM is most likely salivating over any move they can make to lure Dame out of Portland for greener pastures where he may not only be given the same freedom as he has in the PDX, but also the opportunity to win a TITLE.
All without the controversial Chauncey Billups leading the way.
Why Damian Lillard Should Leave Portland
Let me officially start his article by saying that I have always LOVED Damian Lillard. He is an incredible basketball player, a humanitarian, a LOYAL man in a world of “Superteam-Jumpers” who has so far remained dedicated to his city and the fans and has a reputation as a safe, role model-like hooper/rapper/pitchman. He is Steph Curry, but with a dash of D-Wade (although without the rings.) Dame is as committed to the city of Portland as micro-brews and green energy, and he has legitimate NBA respect and street cred for his game, his rap presence, and his persona that make him a unique perennial All-Star and occasional All-NBA first teamer who just happens to be wallowing in… well, PORTLAND.
So What Happened this Weekend?
The hiring of Chauncey Billups was met with a blaze of controversy, especially from female protestors who have been referencing the very real, slightly forgotten-about sexual assault charge that Billups faced during the 1997 season when he was still a player on the Boston Celtics. (No need to revisit the charges here, but if this would have happened in modern times, Billups would have been... “#Cancelled.”)
Whatever the case, Lillard was social-media shamed for accepting this hire... But in reality, he had no idea what had transpired in the past.
He even tweeted the below:
Hmm. SAY LESS. Damian Lillard is making a point. Why should anyone blame Lillard for a hire he had NOTHING to do with? Over the weekend it seemed as if Lillard was being accused of things he had no power over – especially the hire of Billups, who has been a serviceable assistant with the Clippers, even though Dame was unaware of anything in Billups’ past...
And then… to make things worse, here comes the “dangling carrot” that was Becky Hammon...
Becky Hammon Syndrome
For the last few weeks, the Blazers have been teasing their fans and the world with a possible female head coaching hire – former WNBA player and current San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon. This world-altering move would have been celebrated across all platforms. And even Dame has been quoted as saying that he would have approved of the hire of the first-ever female NBA Head Coach.
And if you have ever spent any time in Portland, you know what this type of groundbreaking hire would have done for the city and for the league. Portland has always been a super liberal city and ahead of its time, and nothing would have done more for gender equality and groundbreaking decision-making than the hiring of Hammon as an NBA head coach.
I’m not saying that the hiring of Billups was a bad look for the Blazers – but yeah, inking an accused sexual predator over an extremely capable female HC doesn’t make the future of the franchise look too promising. I’m just saying – the world has CHANGED.
Is This All Worth It For Dame?
In reality, Damian Lillard has endured critical backlash from the press and the city for far too long and should NOT be held accountable for this new coaching hire. However, as good of an NBA mind as Chauncey Billups might be, this team may not get behind him the way other teams get behind former NBA players-turned-coaches. For every Steve Kerr, there are at least 10 ex-players-turned-coaches like Bill Cartwright or Kurt Rambis.
Nobody is questioning if Billups has what it takes. But I don’t expect Lillard to stick around for the backlash once it hits. This team is parading out McCollum, Dame, and Carmelo… and not much else. If Dame sticks around, it’s going to be a tumultuous year with these veterans staring at another first or second-round playoff exit.
So should Dame finally leave Portland and try to join a super team? Even if he accepts a trade to a team with ANYBODY else, his legacy in Portland will most likely end in disappointment more than fulfillment... Still, is it time for Dame to go from Oregon to Ore-GONE?
Lillard has to accept the fact that the “loyalty thing” leads to two of three things: You will end up like John Stockton, Karl Malone, or Patrick Ewing – without rings… but multiple individual achievements – or you end up like Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki – who DEMANDED that GMs built teams around their strengths to fulfill dream seasons. (The Lakers trading for Kobe on draft night and being ahead of the 2-man game and signing Shaq are where teams like Golden State exist today.)
So do the Blazers look like a team “ahead of their time” this week after the hiring of Billups?
NOT AT ALL.
Option 1: Oklahoma City Thunder
If he demands a trade, there's a chance he could find himself on a team like Oklahoma City, playing opposite star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and becoming Portland 2.0. But with Kemba Walker there, three first-round picks, and nothing to speak of since KD left town – there is HUGE potential to unload for someone like Dame and add a third piece from the free agent pool.
Kemba Walker’s trade value isn’t high, but the Thunders’ three first-round picks are – even in a draft that looks to be as unproven as Ben Simmons’ future.
Option 2: Philadelphia 76ers
Speaking of Ben Simmons – could the 76ers be in play here? What if we visualize a 3-team trade that involves Lillard, Simmons, SGA and numerous first-round draft picks? Could Lillard and Embiid in Philly bring in the final piece that the City of Brotherly Love needs to push this talented team beyond the second round?
Imagine Damian Lillard. Joel Embiid. Tobias Harris? CHIPS.
Think about it – what if Ben Simmons wasn’t passing up open layups for passes and could score like Dame D.O.L.L.A. in that last playoff round against the Hawks? WOW. Normally I would think that there is NO WAY that a team like that could form. But in the modern NBA, I can see that team assembling within the week.
Add some key free agents like a 7-foot sharpshooter such as Lauri Markkanen (free agent this year) and some franchises could EASILY find a way to bring Dame into the fold and turn anybody into next year’s Phoenix Suns…
Option 3: Team Up with a Contender
A lot of teams have a great young core and can part with some decent picks and vets for Lillard’s talent and leadership. Still, I’m not sure that a lot of teams are willing to empty their young players and draft picks for a star like Dame or even have the assets to do so.
However, there is the option of joining an already solid contender. It all demands on if Damian Lillard is willing to take the backlash from fans and media that will come from the kind of move that he publicly criticized last year.
Remember what Dame commented on Paul George’s Instagram last year?
As savage as that was, the reality is that Paul George is still playing hero ball deep into the Western Conference Finals and Damian Lillard is currently busy trying to secure his new beats for his next record... Should Lillard accept that the time is ripe for him to bounce from his comfort zone and spark a terrible “jersey burning ceremony” in the PDX, he will finally grow as a modern-day NBA player.
It’s a game of adjustments, and as much as Dame wants to stay loyal to the city, he has to finally realize that he should think about his ultimate legacy and what it will mean to his Hall of Fame career.
Where Is This All Heading For Damian Lillard?
My guess is that he ends up in OKC – and they’re a pick away from glory – or in Philly, where he could easily take them to the 2022 title. Of course, there’s always the Knicks, who have three first-round picks in the next two drafts? And if a guy like Mitchell Robinson is on the table? We just might see them swoop Dame up.
I don't know – it’s all a deck shuffle every season, but one thing can be said for sure – Damian Lillard is holding all of the cards and can pave his own road to championships or follow the team plan to mediocrity...
I just wish they would have given Becky Hammon a shot… Like Dame, she’s never been given a path to her full potential...