No one has repped the Portland Trail Blazers like Damian Lillard.
From the impressive collection of corporate partners, to the national TV spots, to repping the Trail Blazers like no other, to the arduous task of trying to recruit high-level talent to the Pacific Northwest and to displaying an unprecedented loyalty to a franchise that is failing to reciprocate that same level of commitment.
Lillard is giving his all to be available and to keep faint championship aspirations alive in Portland, all while fighting a number of injuries. The 30-year-old has battled a left ankle injury, tender ribs, a lower abdomen strain and knee soreness from continual screen clashes, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The bumps and bruises are just one obstacle for Dame in the most frustrating season of his nine-year career.
His commitment to rectifying what has been a monthlong personal and team slump is commendable, but how much of the team’s repeated shortcomings is his own doing?
Lillard isn’t just a “loyal” player, but he’s also never been one to ruffle feathers by calling out underperforming figures or applying pressure. He’s a corporation’s dream superstar.
But where has it gotten him?
Portland has plunged steeply in April, having dropped 10 of 15 games and stationed in play-in territory as the No. 7 seed. It’s a disheartening period that will likely end up costing coach Terry Stotts his job, a position he’s held for nearly a decade.
Accountability, ingenuity, doing away with granting everyone offensive freedom and a fresh voice roaming the sidelines might be in order, but the team’s struggles extend beyond X’s and O’s.
In a superteam era, no team is routinely competing for a championship with only one All-Star. The last time Lillard played with a player who made the All-Star team was LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.
The six-time All-Star desperately has stated repeatedly that he craves to bring a championship to Portland. But with each head-scratching loss and early postseason exit, his desire to fulfill that craving is appearing more and more like a pipe dream.
For the loyalty, goodwill and most importantly the productivity, Lillard deserves a shot at leading a legitimate championship-contending roster.
Neil Olshey, the president of basketball operations, drafted Lillard and CJ McCollum. Those are two career-defining picks that earned him prestige in league circles, but building out the roster has been a mixed bag.
To have a player of Lillard’s caliber in the fold and eager to win now, the front office has yet to make a big splash at the trade deadline or in free agency.
Robert Covington has been a nice addition this season as a versatile 3-and-D stalwart, but his presence hasn’t translated to an improved defensive team.
The Norman Powell-Gary Trent Jr. swap was an admirable move at the trade deadline, but it didn’t necessarily address a dire area of need.
Lillard is the greatest player in Blazers history and is uniquely the most low-maintenance superstar in the league. He has never issued an ultimatum to management, an approach most superstars venture down when they feel the roster hasn’t been up to par for years.
His temperament and continued success on the court are akin to that of a modern-day Tim Duncan, but this Trail Blazers squad looks as if it’s merely a postseason tuneup for authentic championship contenders.
Lillard must take the onus and recognize the pattern: His inaction has led to inaction. He has been a constant professional and in return, it’s made central figures throughout the organization comfortable.
There are a plethora of reasons that make Portland a hard sell to attractive talent, but like any other profession, it’s all about results.
Lillard plays through numerous injuries that go unreported and is one of the most durable players in the NBA. In a condensed season where the path to a title is pretty wide open, the Trail Blazers are proving to be playoff bait yet again.
Simply put, Lillard has not received the help he needs to win a title in this era. As he turns 31 this summer and considering all he’s done for the franchise, a more aggressive, risky approach is needed in order to pair him with another bona fide star.
No one has ever questioned the fight in Lillard. But it is fair to ask if he’s been fighting the good fight alone.
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