Lillard sounds like a guy considering shutting it down for season
The Portland Trail Blazers have lost six in a row, are 31-40 and sit 3.5 games out of the 10 seed and final play-in spot in the West (a few teams sit between them and that goal, too). It’s not impossible, but with just 11 games remaining there’s a reason fivethirtyeight.com gives them just a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs. It’s hard to be optimistic.
Even for the perpetually optimistic Damian Lillard.
Check out his quotes postgame, with the first being via Sean Highkin of the Rose Garden Report (Blazers fans should subscribe).
“I think everybody in here is not crazy,” Lillard said... “You look at what other teams are doing, they’re creating separation, and we’re on a losing streak. We’ve pretty much fallen out of the race for the 10th spot unless we win every game, if you really look at it truthfully.”
"We pretty much fallen out of the race for the 10th spot… I love to play, I love the competition and I haven't been ready to give that up. But it does come a point in time when do you stop putting your competitive nature out front."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 20, 2023
— Damian Lillardpic.twitter.com/1N2IodudOE
Lillard has played at an All-NBA level this season, averaging 32.2 points and 7.2 assists a game, shooting 37.3% from 3, an insane-for-a-guard 64.5 true shooting percentage, all while having the fifth highest usage rate in the league. Put simply, he has carried the Blazers.
Maybe it’s getting close to time to take that burden off his shoulders.
If/when Lillard decides to sit out the rest of the season, it will start another round of “should Lillard leave” speculation in the media and around the league (other teams are certainly watching). Just don’t bet on it happening. As Lillard said recently about staying to win in Portland, “I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Lillard has four years, $216.2 million remaining on his contract after this season, the deal he signed just last summer. However, more than the money, Lillard sees himself in the Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee mold — he wants to stay and win in his city.
Rather than selling, look for the Trail Blazers to try and be buyers around the Draft or into the summer, offering good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons, plus plenty of draft picks. Portland wants to win around Lillard and is willing to be aggressive.
But that’s next season, this season has reached the point it may be time to pack it in for Lillard.