The Trail Blazers used a 2-15 finish to grab the fifth-best odds in next month’s lottery, but that doesn’t mean the team will try to rebuild through the draft, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic.
Franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard made that clear after Sunday’s 56-point loss to the Warriors in the season finale. This marks the second straight year that Portland has failed to qualify for the play-in tournament, and Lillard said he’s doesn’t want to continue on that path.
“I’m just not interested in that. That’s not a secret,’’ Lillard responded when asked about bringing in more young talent. “I want a chance to go for it. And if the route is to (draft youth), then that’s not my route.”
What that means, according to Quick, is that the Blazers will likely try to trade their first-round pick unless they land the No. 1 selection in the draft. They have a 10.5% chance to get French phenom Victor Wembanyama, but anything else won’t be enough for Lillard, who wants the team to be aggressive in targeting veteran help this offseason.
Lillard’s friendship with Jerami Grant played a role in Portland’s decision to trade for him last summer, and Lillard indicated that’s he’s talked to other players who have expressed a desire to join the Trail Blazers.
“I know there are guys that want to do it, I will just say that,” Lillard said. “I know there are guys who really move the needle and want to do it. But knowing that and actually making something happen to make that a reality is a completely separate thing.”
General manager Joe Cronin and head coach Chauncey Billups expressed similar sentiments on Sunday, with Cronin stating that the organization has a “target group” of players it will look to acquire. Quick notes that Portland was among the teams that pursued the Raptors‘ OG Anunoby before the trade deadline. He names the Nets’ Mikal Bridges and the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown as other players the Blazers might have strong interest in, but they may be beyond the team’s reach.
“We have our favorites,’’ Cronin said. “The ability to get them is not easy.’’
Lillard, who’s coming off his best scoring season at 32.2 PPG, made it clear that he’s not issuing an ultimatum as he did two years ago. He remains committed to staying in Portland and now has the security of an extension that runs through the 2026/27 season. He plans to work with Cronin and Billups on moves that will hopefully turn the Blazers into contenders.
“We all want the same things,” Cronin said. “Whether we are able to go out and accomplish what we want to do … we’ll see.”