Northwest Notes: Lillard, Sharpe, SGA, Agbaji

Fans welcomed Bucks guard Damian Lillard back to Portland Wednesday night with a minute-long standing ovation, writes Jamal Collier of ESPN. The long-time franchise icon remains a popular figure in the city, even after a trade request that led to a summer of rumors and a standoff with management. Lillard expressed his love for Trail Blazers fans and suggested that he would like to return to the organization before his career is over.

“Because of how I feel about Portland,” he said. “How I feel about the organization here and my time that I spent here, in my mind I’ve always felt like that’s how my career would end. Right now, I’m just in a space of like, this is where I am now. I’m in Milwaukee. I wanted the opportunity to contend, and our team has an opportunity to contend for this year and years to come, and I’m just living in that. But I definitely, when I was traded, I see a day where I’ll be in a Trail Blazer uniform again before I’m done.”

Lillard asked to leave because he wants the chance to compete for a championship and he believed the Blazers’ front office was more focused on rebuilding. He admits that his relationship with the team became contentious and says he hasn’t talked to general manager Joe Cronin since the deal with Milwaukee was completed. He added that he still follows the team, particularly Anfernee Simons, whom he helped to mentor.

“You just feel the appreciation and the love,” Lillard said after the game. “I just kind of stood in it. It was like, man, this is a big deal. Just take that moment and to have everybody in the building just show me that type of love, acknowledgement of a lot of things during my time here. So, I appreciated it.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers guard Shaedon Sharpe is making progress in his recovery from a lower abdominal strain and will begin “light on-court activities,” the team announced on Twitter. Sharpe has been sidelined since suffering the injury in a January 11 game.
  • Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was surprised to be named an All-Star starter ahead of Stephen Curry, but his teammates recognize that the honor is well deserved, notes Marc J. Spears of Andscape. “Everybody has bought in, but it starts with him,” Chet Holmgren said. “Leadership has to start with the guy we’re looking at from the time we walk into the gym until we leave. He is one of those dudes and he stepped into that role extremely well.”
  • Ochai Agbaji is battling a shooting slump, but his contributions on defense have kept him in the Jazz lineup, per Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. “It is kind of tough,” he said. “Trying to stay ready and having in my mind that I need to get a make, and trying to make the right moves and knowing I don’t have the luxury of a lot of shots is hard. But you still have to stay ready and keep your mind right and just be ready to shoot.”
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