The Portland Trail Blazers were eliminated in six games to a Denver Nuggets team missing three rotation players Thursday evening in what feels like an end of an era of Blazers basketball.
Now, entering the 2021 offseason without a first-round pick, Blazers fans and media are anticipating coaching and roster movement this summer to put a contending team around Damian Lillard for his age 31 season.
On the latest episode of the Talkin' Blazers podcast, Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon discussed how these last few seasons in Rip City just have been frustrating for Lillard, reaching a boiling point to where he captioned an Instagram photo last night with "How long should I stay dedicated?"
"Some people thought that was coded," said Sheldon. "I think there wasn't much coding to that, that was pretty obvious. This is a very, very different approach from Dame now from what we have seen previously."
Frye agreed with his co-host and expanded, saying Lillard has to be frustrated from the lack of progress towards becoming a title-contending team during his career.
"At the end of the day, my man is in a buggy cart and everyone is driving Ferraris around him," said Frye. "Other teams are making moves. In his career, he saw the Suns go from the worst team in the league, to solid in the bubble to now second and out of the first round.
"He's seeing teams have so much turnover and yet, he is still 'stuck in the mud,' right?
Frye has a point.
Lillard has been playing at a near MVP level for seasons now, but the team put around him has not been able to get the job done in the postseason.
Portland has advanced past the first round twice since the Blazers seemingly embraced a rebuild after LaMarcus Aldridge left in free agency. First, thanks to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin getting injured and next, the Blazers took advantage of a weak side of the bracket to make the 2019 Western Conference Finals. Once on that stage, the Blazers blew back-to-back-to-back 17-point leads to get swept by a Kevin Durant-less Golden State team.
Despite that, Lillard has never made a fuss and has always taken full accountability.
After posting the lone 50-point, 10-assist postseason game in NBA History during a Game 5 loss this week, Lillard said the performance did not matter because his team did not win.
The real takeaway from that game is the Blazers needed Lillard to have arguably one of the best performances in NBA postseason history, to not win, but just be within striking distance in a first-round playoff game.
If Lillard finds himself frustrated, he has every right to be.
"We didn’t win a championship, so obviously where we are now isn’t good enough,” Damian Lillard said after being eliminated Thursday.
“I don’t know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously as is, it wasn’t good enough. We came up short against a team without their starting point guard and shooting guard (Will Barton and Jamal Murray). ... Obviously, where we are isn’t good enough to win a championship if it’s not good enough to get out of a first-round series with two of their best three or four players not on the floor.”
Frye concluded his take asking exactly what Rip City has been thinking, too.
"If he is committed to this team and to this city, like we all know he is, how is that not being rewarded?"