There weren’t a lot of trips to Sacramento in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Except you’ll see Mitch Richmond in action.
I can’t say I loved going to the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis back in the day either. Except you’ll be able to watch Reggie Miller ping-pong his way around the court, like a pinball in your favorite machine, bouncing wildly off the bumpers and racking up points.
Minneapolis? kg. Naf said.
The trip to pre-Tim Duncan San Antonio meant heaping help from David Robinson, “The Admiral.” Dallas was the city of Roe Blackman. Utah Stockton was to Malone.
In almost every NBA hotspot there was a star, and sometimes, a superstar to watch.
Now, that was a long time ago, before League Pass and RSNs brought every team and every player to your big screen, iPad or laptop. Times are different now. The NBA is more intimate and accessible to millions.
So you can, with one click, watch every Damian Lillard game with Portland, home and away. And with another click, you can read or hear all the machinations about Lillard’s future out there.
If you’ve done so recently, you might be overwhelmed by the annual TV series back and forth about whether the lady should stay in the Rose City or ask for one last trade. And I found out in real time last week that the Blazers haven’t moved the #3 pick, with Lillard strongly suggesting they do in pursuit of a veteran or veteran to help him make a run in the Western Conference next season.
Not only did Portland keep the selection, but it also took what a reasonable person would assume is Lillard’s eventual replacement in Scoot Henderson, the talented and precocious 19-year-old from the G League Ignite.
The Blazers and their 32-year-old face from the franchise met up on Monday. General Manager Joe Cronin called it “a great discussion,” reiterating that the Blazers are determined to build a winning team around the seven-time All-Star. Collective eyes rolled at PDX. The sentiment is ignored there, especially for a fan base that is among the best in the league.
Is there much for me to hope for a miracle in keeping the lady in Oregon?
Not out of any hatred for the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, or any other team associated with Lillard in trade talks. Miami is such a typical franchise, that more teams should emulate. Brooklyn has one of the best NBA Lillard buds in Mikal Bridges. Miami has another in Bam Adebayo.
But what makes the association so attractive is that you can go to any yard at night and always see someone performing their craft at the highest level. Thus, it is important that people in Portland have the same access to greatness that people in Los Angeles, New York, or Miami do.
Henderson certainly expects to be a great player in the NBA, one day, maybe soon.
Of course, Lillard He is Really cool.
You could now argue that Portland’s best move is to trade Lillard and surround Henderson with as many good players as possible when he starts his career. I cannot and will not argue this point. I’m going to ask: Would Henderson, Infernee Simmons, Shaddoon Sharpe, Nasir Little and, say, Tyler Hero, Duncan Robinson and a lot of late first-round picks from Miami be any better? (Some in the league believed Simmons’ unleashing—free of Lillard—could do huge damage moving forward alongside Henderson.)
But someone needs to support Lillard’s main reasons for wanting to stay and try to win the 503rd and 971st.
Someone needs to speak on behalf of Loyalty. Blind, stupid, cool loyalty. It’s a trait that’s often lost these days by those who didn’t earn it, and who treat it like discount currency, something to mock on social media rather than celebrate.
Yes, Lillard has made a lot of money over the years, earning every penny.
Since his rookie season in 2012-13, the Blazers are 14th in the league with 462 wins, per StatMuse. But of the teams that didn’t win a title during that span, Portland ranked eighth behind the Clippers, Celtics (remember: since 2012-13), Oklahoma City, Memphis, Utah, Houston, and Indiana. He was more loyal to Portland than Portland—the team, not the city—deserved. Have Blazers fans got their money’s worth over the years watching him? I can’t answer that for them, but I’m guessing which way I think the preponderance of the fan base will subside.
Lillard has played through many coaches, several general managers, and individuals. The only constant in Portland has been ownership, which has remained in the Allen family, with Jody Allen controlling the team since her brother Paul, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire, died of cancer in 2018. But nothing has gotten that much better in Lillard’s 11 years. there.
LaMarcus Aldridge and CJ McCollum were the best teammates with whom the Blazers cornered Lillard. Roleplayers have come and gone, from Al Farooq Aminu to Evan Turner; Wesley Matthews to Maurice Harkless; Zach Collins to Jusuf Nurkic. None of these players rose to the level of Lillard. McCollum is shipped on a multiplayer deal to New Orleans in 2022. Now Simmons, Sharpe and Little are waiting for Lillard to excel.
But Lillard never took advantage. He’s danced around the topic more in recent years, but has never ordered his camp to leak what they want.
We get Garnett’s feelings for Dame. Like Lillard, Garnett has reached only one Conference Finals with his team, in 2004. Lillard played all 11 of his seasons in Portland. Garnett played his first 12 years with the Timberwolves before accepting a deal with the Celtics with Ray Allen up from Seattle, in 2007. And while he hoped and expected Timberwolves management to improve the locker room around him, KG wasn’t begging for someone to come play him in “Minnesota.” Cold cold,” as he used to say it often.
“I’m not one to fly somebody over here and take them to a baseball game, knowing I didn’t make the Twins. In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve probably made a couple of Twins games. You know, take you to the park, push you in the swing. That’s not me,” he said. Garnett told me, halfway through his first stint with the Wolves.
But Garnett has been pushing that swing up. As in Portland, free agents were not flocking to the Twin Cities. The only Wolves to make it to the Conference Finals did so after GM Kevin McHale acquired Sam Cassell from the Milwaukee and Latrell Sprewell from the Knicks in 2003 to help KG close to the top.
Likewise, Lillard did not persuade anyone of note to go play with him, leaving that to the front office. Along these lines, Lillard made it clear he was content with, say, picking No. 3 for Draymond Green. But Green is sure to return to the Warriors, and none of the other free strikers bring Green’s I-not-need-t0-shoot asset to control. (Kyle Kuzma, a very talented player, won’t work. As mentioned earlier, the Blazers already have plenty of offensive mouths to feed.) So despite the supposed happiness at Monday’s meeting, we’re still where we’ve always been with Lillard: He wants Better teammates and the Blazers say, “Trust us.”
Blazers beat writer Jason Quick wrote a great article earlier this week detailing how patience can be the key for everyone to get what they want and there’s a parallel to Lillard’s current trajectory in how the Pacers have rebuilt their team around Miller over his 18-year career . .
The first Pacers playoff game in the late 1980s centered around Miller and Chuck Pearson. Gradually, Indy leaned more on nutrition center Rick Smits—who had been selected with the second pick in 1988—when Indiana was given a rare chance at a top-five selection. Then the Pacers got tough by adding Dale Davis and Antonio Davis to their frontcourt to encircle the 7-foot-4 Smits.
By 1994, the Pacers were in the Eastern Conference Finals. But it took more tweaking—bringing back Mark Jackson, adding Jalen Rose and Sam Perkins, hiring Larry Brown and then Larry Bird as head coaches—to put the Pacers back on top.
In the end, Indy made three consecutive Finals between 1998 and 2000, breaking through that third time to make the franchise’s first NBA Finals. But this required excessive patience from Miller, who never asked for it; From Donnie Walsh, general manager of the Hall of Fame, and from ownership, which allowed Walsh to make the moves he wanted.
And now the Blazers’ Cronin says he’s moved up his sleeve to improve the roster starting Friday. Young players not affiliated with Portland’s Scotts have commercial value. Henderson wrote a star all over. But I have doubts Cronin can turn those assets into the star who can reset the board in Lillard’s eyes. We’ll know in a week or so.
But it’s not like Dame will stick around and go to Oakland if the Blazers don’t or can’t make that big move. will hem.
So what is the worst outcome of the 2023-24 season to watch Lillard work in Portland while teaching the man who would eventually take his major card how to beat a double team? Teaching him the fastest way through local traffic, the best post-game restaurant and how to help make the city love you the way Portland loved it?
To show this loyalty, in word and deed, is not a vulgar oath.
(Photo by Damian Lillard: Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
“Prone to fits of apathy. Introvert. Award-winning internet evangelist. Extreme beer expert.”