- Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard has put trade speculation to rest by saying flat out that he’s staying in the ‘Rose City’.
- After Portland’s early playoff exit last season there was much speculation that Lillard would look to play elsewhere.
- Lillard credits his good relationship with new head coach Chauncey Billups as a primary reason he wants to stay put.
Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Damian Lillard is one of the best players in the NBA. The guy can do it all–including score points in abundance–but that hasn’t gotten him anywhere near a NBA Championship. Since Lillard’s rookie year (2012-2013), Portland has reached the Western Conference Finals only once and when they did (2019) they were eviscerated by the Golden State Warriors in a four game sweep. Last season, Portland was eliminated in the first round as they lost to the Denver Nuggets in six games. It was the fourth time in five seasons and fifth in seven seasons that the Blazers failed to make it past the first round.
The early playoff exist cost Portland head coach Terry Stotts his job. Although the team described his leaving as a ‘mutual decision’ there had been plenty of talk throughout the season that he’d be gone unless the Blazers made a deep run in the postseason. The move wasn’t an easy one to make–Stotts had the second highest regular season winning percentage in franchise history. At the time, we pointed out this put him ahead of legitimate Portland legend ‘Dr. Jack’ Ramsey:
The late ‘Dr. Jack’ Jack Ramsey was the head coach of the Portland Trailblazers from 1976 to 1986 and led the team to the franchise’s only NBA Championship in 1977. He’s considered among the best NBA coaches in history and became a highly respected analyst following his head coaching career. He’s a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and his nickname was no joke–he was a legit PhD. Ramsay was respected everywhere but revered as a god in Portland where one of the streets in front of the Moda Center Arena is named in his honor.
Ramsay is an icon who deserves the reverence of the Rose City faithful. That being said, when Terry Stotts left the employ of the Portland Trailblazers he had a better regular season winning percentage than the legendary ‘Dr. Jack’. Stott had a .556 winning percentage with the Blazers, Ramsey .552. The playoffs are a different matter–though Ramsey wasn’t a great postseason coach despite the championship win–and Stotts has been horrible in the playoffs. Then again, the Blazers have only one head coach in history with a winning record in the playoffs–Rick Adelman (who also has the highest regular season winning percentage at .654) finished up with a .552 postseason winning percentage in Portland. Adelman never got the love he deserved in Portland where he was perceived as a merely adequate coach with a brutally talented team led by Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter. He would go on to reprise his success in Sacramento and Houston while Portland would go through six head coaches before hiring Stotts.
While it is apparent that Stotts had taken the team as far as he could, the primary reason he was sent packing was to keep Lillard happy. The secondary reason was the team’s porous defense on his watch. Immediately after the dismissal of Stotts, two candidates shot to the top of the ‘short list’ of replacements. Actually, they ‘shot to the top’ because Lillard put them there, saying that he’d like to see Jason Kidd or Chauncey Billups get the job. Fortunately for Portland, they ended up with Billups after Kidd took himself out of consideration.
Lillard’s gripe was not just about the head coach–like any superstar, he wants to win a championship and through no fault of his own the Blazers had come nowhere near that goal. That kept the rumors swirling that he’d want out of Portland despite the hiring of Billups. He was quickly linked to the New York Knicks though that was more wishful thinking on the part of Knicks’ fans than a serious possibility. The rumors have continued–until today. On the eve of the regular season, Lillard has made emphatically clear that he’s staying in the ‘Rose City’.
“Everybody is saying what they think I’m thinking, and what they think I’m going to do, but like, I’m not leaving Portland, you know?”
“I’m not leaving Portland. … Adversity is going to hit, there’s going to be tough times. So if it starts off rocky or if it starts out as a struggle I won’t be happy about it, nobody would. But I’m not going to jump ship and bail out when that happens.”
Although he isn’t interested in leaving now, he strongly suggests that he was at one point. The major factor of his decision to stay in the Pacific Northwest is his relationship with Billups. Lillard says that their perception of the game is extremely congruent:
“I think a big part of (my change in mindset) was me and Chauncey’s conversations, and where we see things the same. I’m not going to share details of our conversations, but it’s not often when I speak to people that they see what I see. Watching a game, observing people … there’s not many people who see what I see. But a lot of what I see, he sees. So that was very important to me. Like, that was a big deal.”
The Blazers also made some roster moves to address the team’s defensive liabilities and add depth, bringing in of Larry Nance Jr., Cody Zeller, Tony Snell and Ben McLemore. The Blazers’ starting lineup was pretty good last year so it could be a big season in Portland.