In July, the rumor mill began to churn in earnest with regard to Damian Lillard and his future with the Portland Trail Blazers. Lillard denied any notion that he would be demanding, or even requesting, a trade out of Portland. Eventually, the buzz died down to some degree, but not before it came to light that Lillard pushed the Blazers to upgrade the roster, seemingly putting the pressure back on the organization. Now, on the eve of the 2021-22 season, Lillard gave his strongest on-the-record endorsement yet on the topic, telling Jason Quick of The Athletic that he is “not leaving Portland” and that “it’s not going to happen.”
Quick’s piece, which is certainly worth a full read, goes into Lillard’s comments on new head coach Chauncey Billups, who is seemingly a big reason for Lillard’s renewed optimism in his situation. He did acknowledge that there could be bumps along the way by saying that “a rocky start” would not mean that he is “going to flip and do something different than what I’ve always done.” Still, Lillard was fairly definitive about sticking around.
“I don’t expect all times to be great times. Adversity is going to hit. There’s going to be some tough times,” Lillard said in the interview. “So if (this season) starts off rocky, or if it starts off in a struggle, I wouldn’t be happy about it. Nobody would. But I’m not going to jump ship or bail out when that happens. So, I mean, (him leaving Portland) is the easy thing and popular thing to say, but it’s not going to happen.”
The Blazers have relatively modest expectations this season, at least in terms of the preseason betting market and media predictions. Portland did not overhaul its roster to the degree of some other teams, though Larry Nance Jr. is a nice addition, and will instead rely on Lillard, CJ McCollum and a potentially improved defense to carry the team’s effectiveness. Whether that is a recipe for success remains to be seen, but teams potentially eyeing Lillard in trade may have to reckon with the notion that he simply doesn’t want to leave his current situation.