Early Tuesday morning, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told Yahoo! Sports' Chris Haynes that he would not play when the NBA returns unless Portland has a chance to compete for a playoff berth.
If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team. But I'm not going to be participating. I'm telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there. — Damian Lillard
He added further context to those comments later on in the day during an appearance on Basketball Jones with Mark Jones, reiterating that he wants to play but only if the team can finish the playoff race they were in before the coronavirus suspended the season on March 11.
Obviously, we are professional basketball players so we want to play. A lot of us haven't been training. You know, preparing for that because we started the season so of course, we want to finish it. But, like right before we had this break, right before COVID-19 hit we were in the middle of a playoff race. You know, a pretty tight playoff race not just with us but the 10th, 11th, and 12th place teams in the Western Conference are within striking distance. You looking at 15, 16 games remaining and you have an opportunity to close in. So now with these things happening you just hope that when we do come back and play that you have an opportunity to still be in pursuit of that. Instead of just coming back and playing just to play. That's not what anybody wants. - Damian Lillard
Portland's franchise player's message remains clear: If the NBA wants him to play again this season the league needs to give Lillard something to play for.
Who can blame him and the franchise?
Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million supermax extension with the franchise last offseason following Portland's deepest playoff run since 2000. That extension will not even kick in for another two years until the 2021-22 NBA season. Having invested over $250 million in Lillard over the next six seasons, why would Portland play him if the team cannot make the postseason?
Especially when Lillard suffered a groin strain in the Blazers' final game before the All-Star break that forced him to miss three games. He did return to the lineup before the season's suspension, but the Blazers would be smart to have him sit out any remaining games that don't matter in the grand scheme.
"We want to play but we want to play for something," Lillard went on to say. "I'm still training and preparing to play but we just want to play for something."
Lillard had been averaging 28.9 points and 7.8 assists in 36.9 minutes per game in 58 appearances.
The NBA announced this past Saturday that they have entered negotiations with the Walt Disney Corporation to play out the rest of the 2019-20 season at its ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with host NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon.