Damian Lillard is becoming frustrated with the Trail Blazers’ performance, and tensions appear to be increasing between the players and new coach Chauncey Billups, sources tell Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.
Portland’s front office didn’t make the significant roster changes that Lillard requested during the offseason, and the team has fallen to 11-13 after a pair of lopsided losses. Charania and Amick say that Lillard would like to see the Blazers acquire Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons to help improve a defense that ranks last in the league.
Sources tell the authors that the front office, under recently fired general manager and president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, set a framework of a deal that would have sent CJ McCollum, a first-round pick, and either Nassir Little or Anfernee Simons to Philadelphia in exchange for Simmons. The Sixers reportedly countered by asking for McCollum along with multiple draft picks and future draft swaps, which Portland turned down.
It’s not clear if that offer is still on the table or if any major deal will be made before Olshey’s permanent replacement is hired, according to Charania and Amick.
Olshey never lost confidence in the roster that he built, which is why he didn’t overhaul it after Lillard’s offseason request. He also ignored Lillard’s desire to consider Jason Kidd as head coach after firing Terry Stotts, making a controversial move with Billups instead. Lillard wanted an experienced coach instead of a first-timer like Billups and was willing to accept Mike D’Antoni as well, according to the authors.
Although Billups has vowed to improve the team’s defense from the time he was hired, Portland’s performance on that end of the court hasn’t changed. Billups has also alienated players by publicly criticizing their effort after losses, with the latest instance coming Saturday.
“Competitive fire and pride, that’s something you either have or don’t have,” Billups said after his team gave up 145 points to the Celtics. “That’s something you can’t turn off and turn on. … I’ve never seen a team that needs its bench to inspire our starters. (That’s) crazy to me. It’s supposed to be the other way around.”
Lillard’s decline in production is also contributing to his frustration. He’s dealing with an abdominal injury that will keep him out of action at least through the end of the week. His scoring average has fallen from 28.8 PPG last season to 21.5 PPG so far this year. He’s getting fewer shots in Billups’ offense and is connecting at a career-worst 39.7% from the field and 30.2% on three-pointers. He’s also being used in pick-and-rolls less frequently than under Stotts and is seeing fewer free throw attempts.
Lillard still hasn’t asked for a trade and plans to give the organization time to find a new leader before deciding on his next move, Charania and Amick add. However, his desire for a roster upgrade hasn’t changed.
There are two important dates to watch in determining Lillard’s future with Portland, the authors note. The trade deadline is February 10, roughly two months away, so if Lillard wants to leave the Blazers this season, he will have to request a deal by then. The other is July 6, when Lillard will become eligible for a super-max extension that would be worth $106.6MM over two seasons and would push his contract through the 2026/27 season. Lillard’s ultimate decisions will likely be determined by what the team does with its roster by then.