Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard Discusses Surgery, Possible Return

Damian Lillard isn’t sure when he might be able to start playing again, but he won’t try to return until he’s fully healed from last week’s abdominal surgery, writes Anne M. Peterson of The Associated Press. The Trail Blazers guard provided an update on his condition today in his first press conference since deciding to have the operation to address his abdominal tendinopathy.

“I’m just a week from surgery,” he responded when asked about a timeline for returning. “We said we’ll re-evaluate my situation weeks out, six to eight weeks, and we’ll talk about it then. But I’m not in a rush. My number one goal is to win a championship. I’ve got to be in the best form of myself to make that happen and to be a part of that. So I’m not in a rush. We’ll talk about whatever that timeline is when we get to that point.”

Lillard has been dealing with abdominal pain for years, but the condition became particularly acute at the Summer Olympics. He rested for a few weeks before training camp, but said the pain returned when he started playing regularly again. Lillard’s Olympic teammate, Jrue Holiday, who underwent a core operation during the 2018/19 season, suggested the need for surgery while they were together in Tokyo.

“He was the first person that pretty much confirmed that I needed to have surgery because I sat out of practice one day and I was like, ‘I can’t move,’ and I was kind of just holding it. And he just started describing every single symptom,” Lillard said. “And he was like ‘I had it.’”

The uncertainty surrounding Lillard puts Portland in a difficult position with the trade deadline just 19 days away. At 19-26, the Blazers are clinging to the last play-in spot in the West and they face decisions on whether to try to move Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic, who both have expiring contracts, or to try to deal Lillard’s long-time backcourt partner, CJ McCollum, who has two more seasons and more than $69MM left on his contract.

Lillard indicated that he would be less likely to attempt to return this season if Portland’s front office decides to trade some of its core players and hope for success in the lottery.

“I mean, if we’re gonna play for a draft pick it wouldn’t make sense to me. Because I’m not gonna play for no draft pick. I’m just not capable of that,” he said. “So it’d be best if that was what we were doing, or what was decided, then it wouldn’t make sense for me to play.”

Trail Blazers Notes: Billups, Lillard, Simons, Powell, Elleby

Chauncey Billups‘ first season as an NBA head coach hasn’t been anything like he anticipated, writes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Portland is reeling with a 16-25 record amid a series of injuries and players in the health and safety protocols that has left Billups with a constantly changing lineup.

Six rotation players were missing from Thursday’s loss at Denver, although the situation should begin to improve with the expected return of CJ McCollum on Monday. The Blazers also had to deal with 0ffcourt turmoil as Chris McGown resigned as president and CEO and Neil Olshey was fired as president of basketball operations following an investigation into workplace conditions.

“This year has been unbelievable,” Billups said before Thursday’s game. “We’re 40 games in and we’ve been really in flux a lot, from internally to the team to the COVID to the injured. I mean, it’s just been crazy. So, it’s making me a better coach. I don’t know who I’m going to have every game I come out and play. So, I got to kind of rearrange things. It really is making me a ton better.”

There’s more from Portland:

  • Damian Lillard put off surgery for as long as he could, but it became too difficult to keep playing through the pain caused by abdominal tendinopathy, per Casey Holdahl of NBA.com. Lillard rested for a month after the Olympics with the hope that it would help his condition, but he said the discomfort returned early in training camp. He underwent surgery this week and will be re-evaluated in five to six weeks. “I know (surgery) is ultimately going to be what’s best for the team, too,” Lillard said. “I’d rather be selfish for the team, what I see for our organization and where I want it to go. It makes no sense to keep doing it the way we was doing it. It’s like, all right, take a step back to take how many steps forward. It’s just what had to happen.”
  • While he’s out of action, Lillard is working with the team’s younger players, including Anfernee Simons, who has excelled since taking over Lillard’s starting spot, Holdahl adds. “Ant is like my protege, he’s been under my wing,” Lillard said. “We train together in the summer, I’m always talking to him, I’m always in his ear, we’re always texting and stuff like that because I’ve always believed in him to the highest power.”
  • Norman Powell has formed a similar relationship with CJ Elleby, notes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Elleby has used what he learned from Powell to become a reliable rotation player while the Blazers are short-handed.

Trade Rumors: Finney-Smith, Pacers, Mavs, Grant, Howard, Lillard, Harris

Following up on Michael Scotto’s report that stated teams around the NBA are eyeing Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report says Rick Carlisle was considered Finney-Smith’s “biggest advocate” in Dallas, adding that the Pacers are considered a possible suitor for that reason.

According to veteran reporter Marc Stein, the Mavericks have been trying to get in the mix for Pacers center Myles Turner or Hawks forward John Collins. Dallas may need to part with at least one of Jalen Brunson and Finney-Smith in such a deal — Stein suggests those two 2022 free-agents-to-be have “no shortage of suitors” around the NBA.

However, Stein also points out that in order to make a major move, Dallas may need to find a taker for Tim Hardaway Jr. While Hardaway’s $21MM salary makes him the Mavericks’ most logical salary-matching piece if they make a play for someone like Turner ($18MM) or Collins ($23MM), his production has dipped to 14.5 PPG on .395/.328/.747 shooting through 35 games (30.6 MPG) this season.

Here are a few more trade rumors from around the league:

  • Although Jerami Grant has frequently been cited as a trade candidate in recent weeks, Marc Stein says the Pistons forward isn’t a lock to be on the move. General manager Troy Weaver remains a “staunch backer” of Grant, and there’s a sense he may prefer to hang onto the 27-year-old. However, vice chairman Arn Tellem also has a significant voice in personnel moves, so the decision isn’t just up to Weaver.
  • Jake Fischer adds Dwight Howard to the list of minimum-salary Lakers veterans who are thought to be on the trade block. DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore are also part of that group.
  • The Trail Blazers had zero intention of trading Damian Lillard prior to his abdominal surgery and still has no desire to trade him going forward, sources tell ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
  • Noting that Gary Harris has had a nice bounce-back season for the Magic, Lowe says contending teams have inquired about the veteran wing as a trade candidate or possible buyout signing. A previous report stated Orlando is seeking a first-round pick in exchange for Harris, but I’m not sure that’s realistic, given his $20MM+ expiring contract, unless the Magic take on some unwanted long-term money.

Damian Lillard Has Surgery, Will Be Reevaluated In 5-6 Weeks

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard “feels good” after having surgery for an abdominal injury this morning, and the timeline for him to be reevaluated has been shortened, tweets Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

The next evaluation of Lillard’s condition is now set for five-to-six weeks instead of the original projection of six to eight weeks. Whether he plays any more this year will depend on how he responds after the operation and whether Portland has a realistic chance to qualify for the playoffs.

Lillard said the injury has been bothering him for years and he considered surgery during the offseason. Instead, he participated in the Olympics, where he aggravated the condition, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

A six-time All-Star, Lillard’s numbers across the board have fallen this season. He’s averaging 24 PPG, his lowest scoring average since the 2014/15 season, while shooting 40.2% from the field and 32.4% from three-point range, both career lows.

Because Lillard’s absence will stretch past the February 10 trade deadline, Portland will face some difficult decisions over the next four weeks. Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic, who both have expiring contracts, are candidates to be moved, and the Blazers may listen to offers for CJ McCollum, who has been sidelined for nearly six weeks after suffering a collapsed lung.

Portland is holding on to the final play-in spot in the West at 16-24, one game ahead of the Kings and a game and a half in front of the Spurs and Pelicans.

Damian Lillard To Undergo Surgery On Abdominal Injury

Trail Blazers star point guard Damian Lillard is planning to have surgery soon to deal with lingering pain from his abdominal injury, sources tell Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Windhorst adds that Lillard may be able to return this season after the surgery, but that’s still up in the air.

According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Lillard will undergo surgery on Thursday and will be re-evaluated in six-to-eight weeks.

Haynes notes that Lillard saw specialists in St. Louis and Philadelphia recently and both agreed surgery was the best route to take. Lillard’s possible return to the court this season depends on his health and where the team is in the Western Conference standings, Haynes adds. Portland is currently 16-24, the No. 10 seed in the West.

Lillard missed five games at the beginning of December after an MRI revealed lower abdominal tendinopathy. He later stated that he’s been dealing with the injury for a few years and considered having surgery last offseason. However, he ended up participating in the Tokyo Olympics instead, winning a gold medal with Team USA, but he didn’t look like his normal dominant self. Within his column, Windhorst writes that Lillard aggravated the injury at the Olympics.

Prior to returning to the court last month, Lillard had a cortisone injection to deal with the pain in his abdomen. As we noted at the time, cortisone injections are typically short-term solutions, and the injury continued to bother Portland’s best player. A week ago the team announced that Lillard would miss at least three more games as he continued to struggle with the injury, and ultimately surgery was determined to be the best course of action.

The Blazers hold a 4-7 record without Lillard this season, but have won two in a row. On the season, the six-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA member has played 29 games (36.4 MPG), averaging 24 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 7.3 APG on .402/.324/.878 shooting. 24 points per game represent his lowest scoring average since 2014/15, and his shooting percentages from the field and from three are career-lows, so clearly the injury has impacted his performance.

With Lillard out and CJ McCollum sidelined with a collapsed lung, Portland has been leaning heavily on 22-year-old Anfernee Simons in January. Simons has shined through five games (37 MPG) this month, averaging 27.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 7.6 APG on .511/.446/.947 shooting. It’s a huge opportunity for the fourth-year guard, who’s set to become a restricted free agent this summer.

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Blazers, Jazz, J. Green, Wolves

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard isn’t traveling with the team on its upcoming six-game road trip, which will begin on Thursday in Denver, head coach Chauncey Billups said on Sunday. As Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report tweets, the plan is for Lillard to meet with a specialist to determine the next steps to treat his lower abdominal tendinopathy.

In a full article for Bleacher Report, Highkin says not to be surprised if the Trail Blazers decide to shut down Lillard for an extended period, perhaps even the rest of the season.

As Highkin explains, that would be a logical route to take for a 15-24 Portland team that hasn’t met expectations in the first half of the season. Lillard’s long-term health is the most important factor in the Trail Blazers’ future, so taking the time to get him back to 100% makes sense — and could put the Blazers in position to secure a lottery pick in 2022. Portland owes its 2022 first-rounder to Chicago, but only if it lands outside of the top 14.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer explores the subject in his latest article as well, contending that it’s time for the Trail Blazers to reset. In O’Connor’s view, it would be in the team’s best interests to hang onto Lillard and youngsters Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little while shopping Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, and even CJ McCollum.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Danuel House, who is on a 10-day contract with the Jazz, made a case on Friday for a longer-term deal with the team, scoring 13 points and handing out four assists, as Sarah Todd of The Deseret News details. Utah has two openings on its 15-man roster, so there’s an opportunity for House if he can take advantage of it. He went scoreless in 13 minutes during his second game with Utah on Saturday.
  • The Jazz got forward Joe Ingles back from out of the NBA’s health and safety protocols today, tweets Tony Jones of The Athletic. However, rookie Jared Butler and big man Udoka Azubuike have both entered the protocols, per Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter links), so Utah now has five players affected.
  • Nuggets forward Jeff Green is thrilled to still be playing in the NBA 10 years after he underwent open-heart surgery in 2012, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. “A lot of GMs, a lot of teams told me I wouldn’t even make it past five (years in the NBA),” Green told Singer. “To be here (at) 10, I’m just blessed, man. I’m thankful … and I’m glad they told me that.”
  • Karl-Anthony Towns has liked what he’s seen from this year’s Timberwolves, who are currently in a play-in spot with a 20-20 record. You’re seeing a maturation of a young team finding their own,” Towns said on Sunday, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune (Twitter link). “I think everyone in the NBA is seeing an identity being built in Minnesota, something I think has been lacking in this organization for a long, long time.”

Sixers Notes: Roberts, Simmons, Fox, Haliburton, Embiid, Drummond

Outgoing NBPA executive director Michele Roberts blames the Sixers‘ front office for the acrimonious standoff with Ben Simmons, as Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer relays. Roberts addressed the situation in a SiriusXM Radio interview.

“Candidly, I think a lot of this stuff could be resolved if everyone behaved like a grown-up,” she said. “I think what’s happening in Philadelphia frankly is ridiculous and I don’t know why we’re playing chicken with each other. It just strikes that this is something that could be worked out. It’s difficult.”

We have more on the Sixers:

  • Speaking of Simmons, the front office continues to ask for a massive haul in return for the disgruntled playmaker, Sam Amick of The Athletic reports. That is a source of frustration for some opposing team executives. It’s believed that president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is still hoping Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal will eventually be made available, perhaps this summer.
  • Could Sacramento wind up being Simmons’ destination? Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com explores that possibility with the notion that De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton are no longer considered untouchable.
  • The 76ers went with a jumbo look against the Magic this week and outscored Orlando 11-6 during that four-minute stretch, Derek Bodner of DailySix.com notes. Andre Drummond and Joel Embiid shared the court and limited the Magic to one offensive rebound during that time. However, the Twin Towers combination is not something the team should do very much, due to the issues it would create with the perimeter defense, Bodner opines.

Damian Lillard To Miss At Least Three More Games

Star point guard Damian Lillard will miss at least three more games as he continues to deal with lower abdominal tendinopathy, the Trail Blazers announced today in a press release.

According to the team, Lillard is undergoing further evaluation and consultation on his injury and will be reevaluated next week. He has been ruled out for Portland’s games on Wednesday (vs. Miami), Friday (vs. Cleveland), and Sunday (vs. Sacramento), and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to go after that.

As Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian wrote on Tuesday, the Blazers are considering the best course of action for how to handle Lillard’s abdominal injury, which has been a recurring issue. Head coach Chauncey Billups said there haven’t been discussions about Lillard undergoing surgery or being sidelined for an extended period, but that possibility isn’t entirely off the table either.

“I think what we’re gonna do is just kind of meet, put all our heads together here soon and then talk through some of those things,” Billups said on Tuesday. “I think that’s probably gonna be the route that we go if he doesn’t get some kind of relief there. Because I can only imagine how frustrated he is. We all know that this dude wants to play every game and play every minute of every game.”

Lillard has apparently dealt with the abdominal issue for multiple years, but it seems to have become more of a problem this season. He has missed several games already due to the injury and his numbers are down across the board — his 24.0 points per game represent his lowest scoring average since 2014/15, and his shooting percentages of 40.2% on field goals and 32.4% on threes are career lows.

Blazers Notes: Billups, Cronin, Lillard, Struggles, Zeller

Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups and interim GM Joe Cronin have an interesting shared history, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. Billups and Cronin were high school opponents in 1994, when they competed for the Colorado Class 6A state championship.

Billups was the star of George Washington High and led his team to a 71-67 victory over Cronin’s Horizon High. Billups had 31 points and nine assists in the title game, while Cronin had 22 points and 15 rebounds in defeat.

After Cronin joined the Blazers as an intern in 2006, he was quickly promoted to scouting assistant, and later assistant director of scouting and salary cap analyst. While Billups was playing in the NBA, he noticed Cronin’s name in Portland’s front office department and was dying to know if it was the same person he’d competed against many years before, per Quick.

I was 10 years into my NBA career, and I was looking at the front offices around the league, and I see Joe Cronin’s name,” Billups remembered. “And I wondered to myself: Is that the Joe Cronin? So I started asking questions. And I wanted to see a picture. I wanted to see if this was actually Joe.”

However, Cronin was always on the road scouting, so Billups never got confirmation that it was the same person he knew from high school until he interviewed for the head coaching job over the summer.

When this opportunity came up, and I was talking to Neil [Olshey], I was like: ‘Where is Joe? I need to see Joe. I need to make sure this is the same dude,'” Billups said.

Billups finally saw Cronin on a Zoom interview and recognized him immediately, 27 years later, Quick relays.

Here’s more from Portland:

  • Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated takes a close look at the relationship between Billups and star point guard Damian Lillard. “We’re forming a bond more so than anything else, it’s just like we always sit and talk over everything. And that’s something that’s fun to have,” Billups said.
  • Lillard gave a speech to the Blazers last Monday imploring them not give up on the season, Quick writes for The Athletic. “This is the moment a lot of teams choose to just pack it in and say, you know, it’s tough, we are this many games under .500 and we haven’t been playing great … and they just fold and become one of those bottom teams,” Lillard said he told the team. “And I just said that’s not who we are … it’s not the situation we want to be in, but we dig. We dig out and find a way, and we are going to do that once again.”
  • In a separate article, Quick explores what has gone wrong for the Blazers this season and how they can try to climb out of the hole. They currently have a 12-18 record, 11th in the West.
  • Backup center Cody Zeller has suffered a small right patellar fracture (broken kneecap), the team announced on Dec. 11. In the release, the Blazers said he’ll be reevaluated in one week, but an update on his recovery timeline has yet to be posted. Zeller is having a solid season for Portland, averaging 5.1 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 24 games (13.3 MPG).

Windhorst’s Latest: Pacers, LeVert, Blazers, Simmons, Fox

Based on the whispers he has heard around the league, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst views Caris LeVert and Myles Turner as more likely trade candidates for the Pacers than Domantas Sabonis, he said on the latest episode of his Hoop Collective podcast. Although Sabonis has frequently been mentioned alongside LeVert and Turner in reports on Indiana’s potential trade chips, Windhorst hasn’t heard much chatter about the All-Star center.

During Friday’s episode of the Hoop Collective podcast, Windhorst spoke at length to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon about the report on the Mavericks that MacMahon published earlier this week, which included details on how the relationship between Luka Doncic and Rick Carlisle became frayed. Interestingly, Windhorst suggested that LeVert could perhaps relate to Doncic, stating that the Pacers swingman and Carlisle have not had the “greatest partnership” so far this season.

Here are a few more interesting tidbits shared by Windhorst during his podcast:

  • Windhorst heard from one executive who said that the Trail Blazers, since their front office shakeup, have created the impression they’re willing to listen to inquiries on anyone except Damian Lillard.
  • According to Windhorst, there are multiple execs around the NBA who believe that when the Sixers eventually trade Ben Simmons, at least one of the Kings, Timberwolves, and/or Rockets will be involved, either as Simmons’ destination or as a third team in the deal. As Windhorst explains, those three teams’ front offices are run by executives who previously worked with Daryl Morey.
  • Although reports earlier this year suggested that De’Aaron Fox was expected to be off-limits in any Kings trade talks, MacMahon has gotten the sense that the point guard is no longer considered untouchable. According to Windhorst, Fox came to camp this fall 15 pounds heavier than he was when the season ended last spring.