Gone are the days when Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers were the majority’s “alternate team” and a yearly dark horse in the Western Conference. The appeal has become stale, and the view on Lillard has drifted towards the wow-he’s-still-there phase.
Keep in mind that his sweet-shooting, high-scoring tandem with CJ McCollum ran for six full seasons (beginning when McCollum became a starter), and even that is gone now.
The 2022-23 campaign marks Dame’s 11th season in Portland, where’s already a certified legend. It’s well-deserved, of course, given that he’s the franchise leader in points, points per game, and three-point field goals, among others.
While those are great and all, it makes you wonder just how long can the 32-year-old keep carrying the Blazers while they do minor rebuilds over and over? It feels like the team is getting re-tooled every other season.
Lillard and the Blazers went to the playoffs in eight of his 10 previous seasons with the team. Here’s how they fared:
- 2012-13 – Missed the playoffs
- 2013-14 – Lost in the West semis
- 2014-15 – Lost in the 1st round
- 2015-16 – Lost in the West semis
- 2016-17 – Lost in the 1st round (swept)
- 2017-18 – Lost in the 1st rd (swept)
- 2018-19 – Lost in the West finals (swept)
- 2019-20 – Lost in the 1st round
- 2020-21 – Lost in the 1st round
- 2021-22 – Missed the playoffs (Lillard missed 55 games)
As seen in the number of times they went backwards and the three consecutive exits via sweep, it’s not pretty. Also, that’s an eight-year run of making the playoffs that only feature one Conference Finals appearance. It screams “restart,” not just for the supporting cast, coaching staff, and front office, but the main star as well.
Make no mistake about it, though, much of that is due to Lillard and McCollum’s solid combo, particularly by the former’s deadly shooting and scoring, which then poses a ‘maybe’ – maybe Dame just needs a new environment and/or a new legit co-star?
But, as you know, it just ended as a long thread of speculation as Dame signed a supermax extension in July 2022:
Team loyalty is deemed dead these days, and Lillard is among the very few exceptions, which is noble to an extent. How far does he have to prove it, though? How loyal do you have to be if you’ve given a decade’s worth of elite basketball? He wants to play in a title-contending team, too, and he’s not getting any younger.
Then again, maybe he just loves Portland too much and he’d be insane to leave $120 million on the table?
Another (likely) lost season
For now, we’ll continue seeing Lillard chop it up with his new-look squad and second-year head coach Chauncey Billups. It’s not that bad on paper as young stud Anfernee Simons is a ‘microwave’ type of guard with his hot stroke, chipping in a career-best 21.6 PPG and still improving, while off-season acquisition Jerami Grant is also showing out with 21.7 PPG. Further, bruising Center Jusuf Nurkic is still there registering 14.3 points and 10.0 boards. Finally, McCollum’s replacement, Josh Hart, is an intense swingman and arguably the best rebounding guard in the league.
They started out strong, going 9-3 in their first 12 games and it was nice. However, they have since come back to earth and gone 12-21 after that. The 21-24 slate is only good for 12th in the West – though luckily for them, there’s plenty of time and the 6th to 13th spots are only separated by 3.5 games.
But yeah, the point stands. ‘Dame Dolla,’ who’s now racing through his 30s, is on a loose change team yet again. What’s more frustrating is he’s true to his usual ways. He’s pouring in a prolific 29.2 points (8th in the league) while dishing out 7.2 assists per game this season. In fact, he’s actually at a superb 39.0 PPG on 51.9% shooting over his last five, which includes him scoring 50, 44, and 40 points.
It should be fun to watch how much Lillard can guide his new supporting cast because that’s what’s left to do for now. We’ll have to wait a few more years for a potential superstar pairing. Knowing the insanity of player movement, it could be anywhere in the spectrum, possibly as big time as LeBron James and Luka Doncic.