Dewayne Hankins

Trail Blazers Ready To Move On From Damian Lillard Era

After an 11-year partnership between Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers, the two sides moved on this offseason with a trade that sent one of the franchise’s all-time best players to the Bucks. Now, following years of attempts to compete, Portland looks completely different, with players like Scoot Henderson, Deandre Ayton and Shaedon Sharpe heading up its young core.

While Lillard occupied most of the spotlight, general manager Joe Cronin made plenty of headlines during the time in which Lillard’s request seemed in limbo, The Washington Post’s Ben Golliver writes. Media members and fans alike drew different conclusions regarding Cronin, Golliver details, with some accusing Cronin of not sending Lillard to his then-preferred destination of Miami “out of spite” and others calling him a “liar” for drafting Henderson instead of trading the draft pick for a contender. To add fuel to the fire, Lillard didn’t thank Cronin in his lengthy farewell letter to Portland.

[Lillard] and I went through it this summer,” Cronin said. “It wasn’t always amicable and perfect. To be omitted from that [letter], I didn’t take as anything more than it being a hard summer that we had both gone through. I wasn’t one to be thanked at that moment. … Our directions didn’t line up. Things didn’t work out. We had pure intentions in our desire to build a winner around him. We were just unable to pull it off. I don’t think that was a lie. We just couldn’t get it done.

One of the most overlooked aspects of the Lillard trade is how it affected local marketing, Golliver explains. Season ticket holders had to make decisions to renew or not and promoters had to make the decision on which players on the team to highlight. Even before Lillard was traded, the Blazers began to turn the page, Golliver writes, moving to feature Henderson and the young core and removing Lillard entirely from promo material.

We really need to move on,” Trail Blazers president of business operations Dewayne Hankins said in a Zoom call. “We’ve got great young talent. We’re not like other rebuilding teams who don’t have a strong core of young players. It’s time to turn the page.

Fans came around to Lillard’s exit, according to Golliver, and season ticket holders renewed at a 93% rate, up six percentage points last year.

We wanted to honor Dame’s trade request,” Hankins said. “If we promote him, are we being true to our fans? That was the moment when we started saying that this was a new era. It’s really hard to lose a legend like Damian whose number will go in the rafters as soon as possible. At the same time, I think we’re prepared. Our next step is getting our fans to fall in love with these guys.

Even though Cronin didn’t trade Lillard to the Heat, he believes he did right by the star guard by sending him to a contender, according to Golliver. Hankins said his staff is still mulling the right way to honor the guard, Golliver writes, including the possibility of a statue outside Portland’s arena, Moda Center.

We’ve retired a lot of numbers,” Hankins said. “We’ve had the conversation: Is there another level of honor that we need to create for him?

The Blazers still have work to do in completing their rebuild, but they’re as high as possible on Henderson, Anfernee Simons and Sharpe taking the reins left by Lillard at the guard spot, according to Golliver. I highly recommend reading Golliver’s piece in full, as there’s some fascinating perspective and quotes from high-ranking Blazers officials inside.

Blazers Notes: Lillard, McCollum, Bledsoe, Free Agents, Luxury Tax, Cronin

Damian Lillard is unlikely to play again this season as he recovers from abdominal surgery, Sean Highkin of the Bleacher Report tweets.

As Highkin relays, Trail Blazers interim general manager Joe Cronin indicated there’s little reason for Lillard to suit up for the retooling club, even though his recovery is going well. If that’s the case, Lillard’s season ended on New Year’s Eve. He appeared in 29 games this season, averaging 24.0 PPG and 7.3 APG.

Lillard has been consulted on the team’s trades over the past week and the blueprint for the future.

“Damian has been great. He communicates with (head coach) Chauncey (Billups) and I constantly,” Cronin said, per Highkin (Twitter link). “He’s fully caught up with what our plans are and were and is very integral to what our plans are.”

Several other interesting tidbits came out of Portland’s press conference. Here are some of the other highlights:

  • Discussing the trade that sent CJ McCollum to the Pelicans, Cronin said, “It was really important to us that CJ separated from us on good terms, and I think we did that” (Twitter link).
  • Eric Bledsoe, who was acquired from the Clippers in the deal that sent Norman Powell and Robert Covington to L.A., won’t be bought out, according to Cronin. Bledsoe’s $19.4MM contract for next season is only partially guaranteed for $3.9MM, so Portland can decide on his future in the offseason. (Twitter link).
  • Despite blowing up the roster, Cronin believes the team can attract free agents. “I’m confident that we can be competitive with free agents. With Chauncey Billups, Damian Lillard and myself, we can get into meetings and we’re not afraid to go after players.” (Twitter link).
  • The front office felt the team could no longer compete for a title with the previous roster, according to Casey Holdahl of “It had become evident to us that the roster had plateaued,” Cronin said. “It was a team that was built to fit a specific coaching style and a style of play that we didn’t feel was conducive to the way Chauncey and myself wanted to play. With that, we were capped out, we were looking at a team that would have been in the luxury tax by $15 million next season with not many ways to improve.”
  • Luxury tax concerns were a major focus in each of Portland’s trades, particularly the blockbuster with the Clippers. “The deal was important for us because it got us out of the luxury tax this year, which completely reset our repeater clock, meaning we don’t go back in, even if we’re in the tax in future seasons, until at least 2025,” Cronin said. “And the trade also gave us a bunch of leverage in the next deals that we needed to make where teams would no longer hold getting us out of the luxury tax as a part of the negotiation. So that was a good deal for us.”
  • President of business operations Dewayne Hankins said Cronin is a serious candidate for the permanent GM position, Highkin tweets. “Ownership is still in the process of an equitable search. Joe is obviously a candidate for it, and he has the keys to do what he needs to do.”

Chris McGowan Resigning From Role As Blazers’ President

Trail Blazers president and CEO Chris McGowan has informed the team that he’s resigning from his position, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). McGowan is also the CEO of Vulcan Sports & Entertainment, the group that oversees business operations for the Blazers and the Allen family’s other sports franchises.

A longtime sports business executive, McGowan had been in his role with the Blazers since October 2012. He’ll be replaced by Dewayne Hankins, who will be promoted to the position of president, tweets Haynes. Hankins had been the team’s chief commercial officer and executive vice president.

The Blazers have issued a press release confirming the change in upper management.

“Since joining the Trail Blazers in 2013, Dewayne has been crucial to our success and growth,” team owner Jody Allen said in a statement. “Now in his ninth season with us, we’re thrilled to have him lead the organization.”

McGowan’s resignation comes shortly after word broke that the Blazers had launched an independent investigation into the workplace conduct of president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. While the timing suggests that the two developments may be related, there has been no confirmation of that.

According to Jason Quick of The Athletic (Twitter link), McGowan was in the final year of his contract, which had been set to expire next June. McGowan told John Canzano of The Oregonian (Twitter link) he “felt like this was the time for me to make a change,” adding that he intends to pursue other opportunities.

“We are grateful for Chris’s contributions since joining the Trail Blazers nearly a decade ago,” Allen said within today’s announcement. “I appreciate his dedication to the organization and to our fans, and we wish him well in his next chapter.”