27 June, 2023
According to general manager Joe Cronin, the Portland Trail Blazers “remain committed to build a winner” around Damian Lillard. The announcement follows a meeting between Lillard and the team’s management during which the two parties discussed the team’s future orientation. Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite was chosen by the Blazers with the No. 3 overall choice on Thursday instead of exchanging it for a player who could help them win right away. Many assumed that Lillard, who turns 33 in July, would make a move to join a team that was more likely to be successful right now as a result of his decision.
However, the Blazers currently seem to be focused on finding a way to surround Lillard with a winner without parting with Henderson.
Lillard has played his whole 11-year NBA career in Portland after being selected by the Blazers with the No. 6 overall pick in 2012. He has been named to seven All-Star and seven All-NBA teams during that time, won Rookie of the Year, and guided the Blazers to the Western Conference Finals. The Golden State Warriors, the Blazers’ relentless foe, defeated them once they arrived. The Blazers have not triumphed in a playoff series since 2016, with the exception of that 2019 playoff run.
Years of trade rumors have resulted from those conflicts. The Blazers haven’t changed under any of their two different regimes. When the rumors reached their peak in 2021, they didn’t sway him. Even after parting ways with longtime backcourt mate C.J. McCollum in 2022, they didn’t relocate him. Even after signing Henderson, they continued to declare that they intended to maintain Lillard until his retirement. The message is still relevant today.
If Lillard does stay in Portland, the fit will be uncomfortable going forward. Henderson and Lillard both play the same position. The Blazers have also made significant financial investments in Anfernee Simons, a promising guard, and Shaedon Sharpe, the seventh overall pick last year, who appears to be a long-term player in need of playing time. Without a trade, it will be difficult to find playing time for all four guards. Long-term considerations include Portland’s financial commitment to Lillard, who has four years remaining on his contract at the maximum salary. Will Lillard take up so much room on the Blazers’ balance sheet that they can no longer effectively surround Henderson and Sharpe with younger players as they get older?
These are questions that will be clarified with time, and since Lillard hasn’t spoken publicly since the meeting, it’s unclear exactly where he stands. However, for the time being, the Blazers have made it clear that they do not wish to deal their star point guard.