Despite plenty of speculation this offseason that Damian Lillard may request a trade from the Trail Blazers, the star point guard is still in Portland and indicated at the team’s Media Day on Monday that he remains committed to the franchise.
Lillard wanted to see signs from the front office that it was serious about competing for a title, and while the Blazers didn’t make a huge splash in free agency or on the trade market, the 31-year-old expressed enthusiasm about the team’s roster updates, as Jason Quick of The Athletic details.
“Obviously, at the end of last season I wanted to see our roster improve, I wanted us to have a better chance at winning,” Lillard said. “And we had our conversations throughout the summer about what that looked like and how we could take steps in that direction.
“… We’ve done some things that I like,” Lillard added, singling out the athleticism and versatility of newly-added big man Larry Nance Jr.. “I didn’t expect us to go out there and get Kevin Durant all the sudden. But I think the conversations we’ve had … I feel like it’s genuine that we are trying to move in the right direction and give our team a chance to actually go get another (title). That’s why I have faith — the fact that we’ve had real conversations and that’s what everyone’s intentions were.”
There was a sense that the Blazers might need to take a bigger swing – perhaps a trade involving CJ McCollum – in order to satisfy Lillard. However, as Quick writes, Lillard stressed that he didn’t want to see the team make a major move just for the sake of change and that he’s satisfied with the club taking smaller steps, as long as those steps are in the right direction.
“I think he knows we exhausted every opportunity to improve the roster through trade and free agency,” president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said. “And he knows we will continue to work on that throughout this early part of the season and up to the trade deadline like we always do.”
As for that persistent trade speculation surrounding Lillard, Olshey told reporters that the Blazers “will never be receptive of moving Dame,” according to Quick (Twitter link). The club may be willing to accommodate Lillard if he ever wants out of Portland, but that’s certainly not the case right now, per Olshey, who said the veteran guard is “fired up to be here.”
Here’s more on the Blazers:
- In a conversation with Alex Kennedy of BasketballNews.com, Nance spoke about making the “really difficult” decision to ask the Cavaliers if they could accommodate a trade to a win-now team, as well as the role he believes he can play on a club like the Blazers. “I didn’t come out here (to lose),” Nance said. “I had a comfortable, cushy situation in Cleveland; I lived close to my family, I was happy and it was all good. I did not come out here to half-ass this thing. I’m all in, and that means going for it all. Last year, we saw a few teams come out of nowhere; the Hawks came out of nowhere, the Suns came out of nowhere. There were teams that surprised some people, and that’s fully what I’m planning on doing here.”
- At the end of the 2020/21 season, Jusuf Nurkic expressed frustration with his role and the situation in Portland, but he sounded far more optimistic on Monday about the future, as Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian relays. Echoing comments he made earlier in the month, Nurkic said he’s pleased that head coach Chauncey Billups envisions him taking on an expanded role. “I’m glad somebody wants me to be a bigger part of the organization,” Nurkic said. “… I’m looking for a big year personally for me and the team.”
- Billups spoke on Monday about how he intends to prioritize accountability in Portland this season and will call out players who aren’t performing at the level they should be. “I think it does two things,” the Blazers’ new head coach explained, per Casey Holdahl of TrailBlazers.com. “One, it let’s that guy understand and know that he has to be better. And two, it puts everybody else on notice. Nobody wants that, nobody wants to be the star of the tape the next day because you’ve blown five coverages. But it’s a respectful way to do everything and at the end of the day, it’s just coaching.”