This summer, Damian Lillard will be the first Trail Blazer to represent Team USA at the Olympic Games since Steve Smith in 2000.
Following a team practice in Las Vegas Thursday, Portland's point guard discussed why he decided to join the program this summer after a condensed NBA season.
"I wasn't really sure at one point because I expected us to have a great, solid run at the playoffs this year and that ended up being cut short," said Lillard.
"The fact that the season wasn't extended for me... leaving a sour taste in my mouth after losing so early to a team that was beat up and injured when I expected to win that series, it gave me that itch to jump back in and play and have that chance to win."
The Denver Nuggets were down Jamal Murray, PJ Dozier, and Will Barton and still defeated the Blazers in six games, even withstanding Lillard putting up the league's first-ever 50-point, 10-assist playoff performance.
Now with Team USA, Lillard will not have to worry about his teammates letting him down as the Americans project to have the most talent, by far, of any nation. Anything less than a gold medal will be embarrassing, especially after the humiliating quarterfinals defeat to France in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Lillard declined an invitation to that team and instead watched Team USA lose while Dame prepared for what he expected to be a title run in 2020 following an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Instead, due to injuries and questionable roster moves, the Blazers had to participate in the first-ever play-in series of games to earn the eighth seed.
Now, with his Team USA roster spot locked up and a likely starting spot, Lillard "is excited to be here and ready to play with the best players in the world."
Lillard added that the Team USA program has a "different energy" about it compared to his time in Portland thanks to Greg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and Jay Wright.
'When you get there and have that level of experience, have that level of success, it just hits a little bit different... so I'm listening a little bit harder," said Lillard.