Lillard reiterates he wants to win in Portland as he officially signs $120 million extension
LAS VEGAS — “I want to be here.”
Damian Lillard has said it countless times over the past decade, and he said it several more times on Saturday as he sat between Portland GM Joe Cronin and coach Chauncey Billups, discussing his new two-year $120 million contract extension. All that money — Lillard would make $63 million in his age 36 season — matters, but Lillard wants to win, too.
Lillard wants it all, and he wants it in Portland. He said it wouldn’t be the same chasing a ring elsewhere.
“I know me better than me any of you all know me. I’d be happy with [a title elsewhere] because I don’t think anybody wouldn’t be happy as a champion, but it wouldn’t be as fulfilling to me as I want that moment to be,” Lillard said. “Because of how I feel about that, I’m willing to [stay]. As long as I have an opportunity to do it, a good opportunity to do that. I’m willing.”
Did he ever consider leaving the Pacific Northwest?
“Honestly, if there was ever a time I would say last summer…" Lillard said, referring to the summer of 2021, when an early playoff exit had rumors swirling and other players trying to recruit him. “And I wasn’t even saying like ‘Oh, I want to go somewhere else,’ you know, something like that. I was just like, ‘I’m putting my best foot forward every time and I want a real chance to win.’
“After losing to Denver, and they were a beat up team, and we’re pretty much at full strength, after losing that one, I was just man… I was just frustrated for not having a chance. To watch the other teams win the championship... I can’t handle my jealousy and frustration when that happens. So at that point I was just frustrated and I wasn’t convinced like ‘Oh I’m gonna go somewhere else,’ there was just like we got to put ourselves in real positions to have a chance.”
Lillard said one of the things that turned the tide as he considered his future was a three-hour conversation with team owner/governor Jodi Allen. While talk swirled this week about a rift between Lillard and Allen — something Lillard denied — he said they have built a solid relationship and he felt comfortable staying after talking to her because they were on the same page. They both wanted to win big.
“I do feel confident that we are on the right track. I think getting Jerami was huge,” Lillard said.
“We’re really happy with where we’re at the changes we made the steps we’ve taken,” Cronin said. “We know that to continue to get better. I said the other day, I would be nervous playing us if I was another team, but at the same time we’re not at a stage where we’re content with where we’re at.”
Lillard wanted a commitment to winning from the Trail Blazers that matched his commitment to Portland — the team and the community. His love for the city is part of why Lillard did not want to move on, even as the rumors continue swirling (there are still teams watching him and waiting, hoping).
“It’s having a different level of pride about my pride in wearing his uniform, doing something that a lot of people think it is crazy,” Lillard said. “I mean, I get a lot of people on the outside telling me what I should do. Telling me you know, to do everything that goes against what I believe, what I stand on...
“I don’t think that you’ve earned something like this [contract] just by going out there and scoring a bunch of points,” Lillard said. “Something that’s missing in our league is the character in the fight. The passion and pride about not just a name or family name, but how you impact the people that you put into contact with.”
Lillard has impacted a lot of people in Portland. For the next five years he can impact a lot more.