LAS VEGAS – Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard on Sunday quashed any notion that he is disgruntled in Portland, saying “I love where I am” in a brief meeting with reporters at the Las Vegas Summer League.
“I’m straight up. I’m straight up with coach, I’m straight up with Neil, straight up with you all,’’ Lillard told a media gathering. “I’m not unhappy. I love where I live. I love the organization. I love our coaching staff. I love where I am.’’
Lillard sent some cryptic tweets after the Blazers parted ways with good friend and valued teammate Ed Davis, which led to some national speculation that Lillard wanted out of Portland. Shortly after, rumors surfaced that Lillard was being pursued by the Lakers.
Lillard chuckled at how things spiraled into a story. He said his tweet with a peace sign and watch – which some interpreted as two-timed – was merely a way for him to say he was going to sleep.
As for how free agency and the draft has turned out? Lillard says he has been encouraged by rookies Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr., and come to grips with the Blazers’ financial and geographical disadvantages.
“Like I said last year, it’s the urgency of wanting to make those steps in the right direction so we can compete,’’ Lillard said. “We got people out here going all out to try and make it happen, and I want us to do the same thing. And I feel like we are trying to do that.’’
The Blazers, who finished third in the West last season, but also three games from missing the playoffs, lost Davis, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton. They have gained 19-year-old rookies in Simons and Trent and guards Seth Curry, who didn’t play last year because of injury, and Nik Stauskas, who played in 41 games last season.
“Obviously, I loved Ed,’’ Lillard said. “He was one of my best friends in the league; one of favorite teammates I’ve played with. We lose him – that’s a loss for our team. Bazz played big minutes for us, Pat played big minutes for us – so we lose three rotation players that gave us a lot and contributed to our season last year. But I guess now we look forward to who can come in and replace those minutes and give us that type of quality.’’
The Blazers will have to do that against what is a fortified Western Conference, which now features LeBron James in Los Angeles, the champion Warriors, and last year’s top seed Houston, as well as three teams Lillard said got better – Denver, Utah and Minnesota.
“As far as where we fit in there – you all know how I operate – I’m going to get us in (the playoffs) and that’s how it’s going to go,’’ Lillard said.