The Trail Blazers’ inability to build a contending roster and recent backlash involving the expected hiring of Chauncey Billups as head coach are among the factors that could push star point guard Damian Lillard “out the door,” Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reports.
Lillard, who has spent every season of his career with Portland since being drafted sixth in 2012, put forth one of his best campaigns in 2020/21. He averaged 28.8 points, 7.5 assists and 35.8 minutes in 67 contests, raising those averages to 34.3 points, 10.2 assists and 41.3 minutes during six playoff outings.
The Blazers ultimately lost to the Nuggets in a six-game first-round series, immediately raising questions about Lillard’s future. The All-Star guard has long expressed a desire to spend his career in Portland and win a title with the Blazers, but he has admitted multiple times that the 2020/21 season was his most frustrating as a pro.
Haynes, who wrote in the spring that the Blazers ought to be taking a more aggressive approach to building a championship-caliber roster around Lillard, is close with the Blazers point guard, though Lillard distanced himself from that earlier column.
Haynes notes in his newest report that Lillard’s decision to stay in Portland throughout his career can be attributed in large part to his strong connection with the fans. However, some Portland fans have pushed back against the decision to hire Billups due to sexual assault allegations stemming from a 1997 incident. Lillard, who identified Billups as a candidate he liked, said he wasn’t involved in the search and didn’t know about those allegations.
“Really? I was asked what coaches I like of the names I “heard” and I named them. Sorry I wasn’t aware of their history I didn’t read the news when I was 7/8yrs old,” Lillard tweeted in response to a fan on Saturday. “I don’t support Those things … but if this the route y’all wana come at me… say less.”
Portland is expected to announce the hiring of Billups on Tuesday, Haynes reports. Billups, a 17-year veteran, is currently in his first season of coaching as an assistant under Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue. As relayed previously, Lillard listed Billups and now-Mavericks coach Jason Kidd as two preferred names shortly after the Blazers fired Terry Stotts.
A six-time All-Star, Lillard would command interest from several teams across the league if he and Portland separate. Contenders such as the Sixers, Heat and Lakers were among the clubs that expressed interest in acquiring a lead ball-handler this season, whether it was James Harden, Kyle Lowry or another player before the trade deadline.