Damian Lillard has been his usual self this season and the Blazers are in the hunt for one of the play-in spots at this very moment; coming off a win in which Damian Lillard led the way with 33 points against the Stephen Curry-less Warriors the Blazers will face a uphill battle the rest of the way with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joining what has become a gauntlet in the Western Conference all of a sudden. Kevin Durant was the missing piece for the Phoenix Suns and it took new Suns owner Mat Ishbia to be bold enough to make a trade which should’ve been pulled off last summer but the organization was holding on too tight to Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson preferring their development going forward over the high-scoring forward. I’m convinced Luka Doncic is the real deal, after watching him hit back to back threes in Giannis Antetokoumpo’s grill last season in Milwaukee I had no choice but to give the rising phenom his flowers, mind you this is coming from a longtime LeBron fan. He’s now coupled with arguably the best second-option in the league in Kyrie Irving who is arguably the most skilled player the league has ever seen, yup it looks mightily tough for Dame to deliver a championship in Portland this season.
That is leaving out LeBron’s Lakers, Curry’s Warriors,Jokic’s Nuggets,Morant’s Grizzlies, and Kawhi’s Clippers and throw in Zion’s Pelicans for good measure I just don’t see them getting very far this season being that Zion and Brandon haven’t had enough reps together but the Pelicans are built to compete in the Western Conference for years to come but that all lies on Zion’s shoulders and his availability on the court. The Blazers? They just aren’t good enough, it’s unbelievable how long Damian Lillard has remained in Portland but sometimes you just have to get realistic and his time is running out with the franchise. He is certainly good enough to have someone like Kawhi Leonard or Paul George switch sides this coming off-season and join him in Portland to help make them a contender in the Western Conference next season but what are the odds of that actually happening? They’d definitely increase if the Clippers get put out early in the playoffs this season but even then they don’t have any worthwhile assets to offer the Clippers aside from Anfernee Simons and maybe Shaedon Sharpe.
Watching Damian Lillard go through what he is going through in Portland reminds me of what late Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins went through in Atlanta. They never put a worthwhile supporting cast around him in Atlanta to help him compete for championships so nobody remembers him for much except his thunderous dunks. Damian Lillard has had ample opportunity to at least make the Finals in Portland; he lucked up in the 2019 NBA Playoffs with Kevin Durant being injured for the Golden State Warriors in the West Finals in a series I believed Damian LIllard was going to seize the moment in against fellow rival Stephen Curry. But he ended up suffering a sweep putting to bed any comparisons to the Warriors sharpshooting superstar; he put together a stretch in the second half of the 2019-2020 NBA season which I don’t believe I had ever witnessed in my 25 years of watching basketball. He was so blistering hot that going into The Bubble I thought he was getting ready to single handedly take out the Lakers by himself by scoring 40-50 at will every game in that first-round series but the Lakers depth,size,and interior defense ended up overwhelming the Blazers.
Now we sit here 2-3 years later and they have a new head coach in Chauncey Billups who was adamant he could unlock the Simons-Lillard back=court and give the Blazers new life after former head coach preached the Lillard-McCollum philosophy for years in Portland and it resulted in exit after exit and to his eventual firing. Bringing over Jerami Grant was never the problem and Anfernee Simons is an incredible young player who I believe could make his mark in Portland in the future assuming they stick with him, it’s just that questionable front-court. If you were to tell me the Blazers will win the draft lottery and end up nabbing Victor Wembanyama I’d say keep Damian Lillard a Blazer until he decides to hang them up but the probability of that occurring would be the equivalent to entertainer Kanye West being elected President of the United States the year 2024. The writing is on the wall for Damian Lillard in Portland; loyalty and business don’t mix together, that’s something he’ll learn this summer.