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Does Lillard expect to be a Trail Blazer next season? ‘Yeah, I expect it.’

Michael Smith and Michael Holley predict how a Damian Lillard move could affect conference balance and agree a move is more likely because they don't see a path for Portland to remain competitive with the contenders.

Damian Lillard said he woke up to his phone blowing up after a report that he was on the verge of asking for a trade out of Portland this offseason.

“It’s not true,” was Lillard’s up-front response from Las Vegas, where he is still practicing with Team USA in advance of the Tokyo Olympics. “I said the last time [he addressed the rumors], a lot of things are being said, it’s not coming from me.”

There has been a lot of smoke surrounding the Trail Blazers and Lillard’s frustrations with wanting the franchise to be more aggressive with roster upgrades. “Where does Lillard get traded?” is everyone’s favorite parlor game in league circles right now (well, that or the Ben Simmons edition of the same game). This latest report — from a source close to Lillard — was just one in a string suggesting he is considering asking for a trade.

Lillard threw some water on that fire Friday and kept the door open to him asking out.

Does Lillard expect to be in a Trail Blazers uniform next season?

“Yeah, I expect it.”

But he left the door to leaving open.

“I haven’t made any firm decision on what my future will be….” Lillard said.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I say my heart and my intention is to wear the Trail Blazers uniform, but I always want to win it all.”

Lillard confirmed that he will meet in the next day or so with Trail Blazer GM Neil Olshey and new coach Chauncey Billups, who are flying to Las Vegas. However, Lillard tried to play this off as normal off-season business.

Lillard made clear that he wants the Trail Blazers to be more aggressive — “urgent” was the word he kept returning to — in making changes than in the past.

“I don’t disagree that maybe Chauncey can change our team and make us a better team,” Lillard said. “But I think if you look at our team as it is, I don’t see how you say ‘this is a championship team, we just need a new coach….’

“We need to be more urgent… we have made the playoffs all these years, we’re a good team, we’re not a bad team, but it’s reached the point where we have to ask ‘have we done enough?’”

It’s a fair question and a spot-on assessment of the Trail Blazers. As constructed, this is likely a play-in tournament team in the West. Could they get to the No. 6 seed and avoid the play-in in a West with the Suns, Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, and a healthy Warriors? Maybe, but that’s eight teams (including the Blazers), meaning two of them are in the play-in.

Lillard is pushing the Trail Blazers to make moves that put them in the conference’s upper echelon. However, that doesn’t mean he’s pushing his way out of Portland. At least not yet.

“The drama isn’t coming from me,” Lillard said. That’s what makes me most uncomfortable... I’m not shy about saying what I have to say.”