Practices and workouts in Las Vegas are well underway for Team USA Men’s Basketball. Trail Blazers six-time All-Star point guard Damian Lillard is happy and excited for the opportunity to compete for gold this summer in Tokyo.
In his first media interview since Portland officially announced the hire of Chauncey Billups as the franchise's 15th head coach, Lillard gave his thoughts on the latest Blazers change.
“There’s been talk over the years of him moving into the front office and coaching space,” Lillard explained Thursday afternoon from Las Vegas. “And with us letting Terry [Stotts] go after nine years, I think our organization was set on a leader -- looking for a leader of men, somebody that players will respect and went through that process as we felt we should.”
Lillard also noted that he is hopeful that bringing in a new head coach will help the Blazers "make strides in a positive direction and become a better team."
Billups’ hire wasn’t well-received by everyone. Many criticized Portland and Lillard who advocated for the hiring of Billups as well as newly-hired Mavericks coach Jason Kidd.
When Billups was a rookie with the Celtics in 1997, a woman accused him and Ron Mercer of rape at the home of Antoine Walker. Billups and Mercer settled the suit with the unidentified woman, paying her an undisclosed amount out of court.
Thursday, Lillard was asked about his prior knowledge of the allegations made against Billups in 1997 and how that impacted how Lillard felt about the hire.
The first-time Olympian stated, “When I said that I didn’t know, I meant the first time, right away when we let Terry go -- I was asked about names that had been floated out there. And of the ones that I heard floated out there, I said, 'I like J-Kidd and I like Chauncey.' And that time, I had no idea of any of it. When I did learn of it and the process continued, I never felt like it was my job or my duty to say ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do this.’
Lillard added, “I’ve known Chauncey before and I never knew of that, until this coaching process came into play. Our organization, they said they did a thorough investigation and went through everything, they went through the process of hiring a coach as they did, in a comfortable way. That’s not my decision or my job to say, ‘This guy is hired ‘ or ‘This guy’s not hired ‘ or anything. This is what it is now. So here we are.”