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Damian Lillard: Players bypass super-max contracts due to media pressure

Portland Trail Blazers vs New Orleans Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 12: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots over Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at the Smoothie King Center on January 12, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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Damian Lillard has explained why he signed a super-max extension with the Trail Blazers.

But why have so many other players – Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers) and Paul George (Pacers) – requested trades away from the only teams that had a chance to offer so much money?

Lillard on The Joe Budden Podcast:

I think people walk away from it because of the media and s— like that. The outside influence, people talking about their legacy. “He needs to do this. He needs to do that.” People kind of fall into it. So they say, “It’s not about the money. I want to win the championship. And I want to do this.”
Seriously, people make decisions based off of that.
The pressure of other people saying, “He needs to win. He should do this. He should do that and not be about the money.” But I don’t think just because you decide to stay and not pass up on that money, that don’t mean you ain’t trying to win it. When you’re 42 years old and your career over, and you ain’t won it, anyway, and you walked away from 60 million dollars more than what you got, they ain’t even going to be talking about you then. The joke is going to be on you.

I think Lillard mistakenly pins this on just the media. Sure, the media plays a part. But many fans also make the same argument, and while the average fan doesn’t have a huge platform, they collectively have a loud voice.

Still, Lillard’s larger point stands. Players know what many people want to see and hear. Rings are glorified. Emphasizing money is uncouth.

Of course, not every player who has left a potential super-max on the table has succumbed to that pressure. Everyone has their own reasons. I doubt Leonard left San Antonio because he wanted to win a championship. Ditto Irving in Cleveland. Both players had already won titles then joined teams held in lower esteem. This assessment seems more accurate for Davis and George, but they also surely had additional reasons, too.

I wonder whether the tide will turn. Kevin Durant was vilified for taking the easy route to a championship with the Warriors. Suddenly, it was no longer about just counting the rings. Now, to satisfy these critics, players must find a team that’s good enough, but not too good. Maybe more players will rather just take the money than attempt to walk that tricky line.

One thing not changing any time soon: The money is huge, either way. Lillard projects to earn $196 million on his four-year super-max extension. But if he had left Portland for another team in 2021 free agency, his max would’ve projected to be $161 million over four years. That’s still life-changing money. At that point, it makes more sense to pick the most desirable team, even if it’s not the incumbent.

I hope players choose what’s best for them, which can be difficult to gauge, even from the inside. If a player wants the praise of turning down money to win a title, isn’t that what he wants? It’s impossible to completely separate outside norms from internal desires.

The assessment is not difficult with Lillard, though. He is definitely doing what he wants, and that’s great.