Damian Lillard is in the familiar place NBA superstar players find themselves. 28 years old. All-Star. Top-10 talent. Face of the franchise. Missing a conference final.
It’s the Chris Paul trajectory and the challenge about this part of the Dame career is the “more” part of the bio. He wants more than an easy out in the playoffs. He wants more than being in a second tier small market that eliminates him from all the free agent superstar buzz. He wants to be in a place that other players want to come to. Lillard already knows he has the game to attract stars but he doesn’t live in the market that attracts stars. And so there is a lot of feast and famine in the Lillard career.
He has done everything that has been asked of him since being selected 6th in the 2012 NBA draft. He plays hurt. He finishes plays. He dominates quarters. He is respectful to opponents while carving them up and belittling them on the court. He is hands down the Blazers best player, so good that he chased an All-Star (LaMarcus Aldridge) out of town. But he needs more than C.J. McCollum. The Blazers front court is weak. Jusuf Nurkic underperformed last year. Neil Olshey overpaid Evan Turner which has hurt the Blazers flexibility. The worst thing the Blazers can do is waste Dame’s prime years with a 5th and 6th seed that has no shot at contending. When Kevin Durant laughed at C.J. McCollum’s contender dream, Durant was just being real.
So here Dame is in 2018-19. He’s always got a chip on his shoulder because he’s from Oakland and that’s how black in the bay is. The Lillard Blazers are pretty much who they were last year, missing a few pieces but still the same Lillard and McCollum thing.
Just as a refresher, last season Lillard averaged 27 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists. He made 50% of his two point shots and 36% of his three point shots. He had a 120 offensive rating, better than Kyrie Irving’s, and a career high PER (25.2). He had 4 games over 40 points and against Sacramento he dropped 50.
He torched the Lakers. 32 points and a game winner. 39 points and 54% from three. Dame loves the Lakers and on opening night 2018-19, he doesn’t just get the Lakers, he gets LeBron James first game as a Los Angeles Laker. Everyone will be tuning in to see LeBron excel or to see him fail. And there Dame Lillard will be making buckets.
LeBron has mad respect for Lillard and vice-versa. But LeBron represents what Lillard has not been able to achieve in his career. The case can be made that Lillard’s career is hauntingly similar to James first run in Cleveland. Good team, good players. But not enough star power to push through. Lillard will be in Portland three more years and so he still has time and he doesn’t have time. He will be in his early 30’s when the contract is over and what then? His contract and LeBron’s contract dovetail at nearly the same time except LeBron had to leave Cleveland to get what he wanted and Lillard’s Rip City loyalty is anyone’s guess.
Which sets up a near perfect opening night come October 18th. Lillard always crushes the Lakers like they stole his money or something. A couple of years back, he got into some beef with then guard D’Angelo Russell and he destroyed him. But Lillard doesn’t have to fake any kind of rivalry. LeBron went to L.A., didn’t even consider the Blazers- that’s a diss in and of itself. Call it what you want but Lillard is on the outside looking in and here is his chance to show this new look no one knows who they are just yet Lakers they are not all that.
Instead of worrying about the Lakers, the way Lillard looks at the glass half full, everyone should be worried about the Blazers because the Blazers star is big when the stage is the brightest.
LeBron’s Lakers game one is ten weeks away. He has a Damian Lillard problem.