Trail Blazers

Lillard out but it's just a sprain

Trail Blazers

I can't recall the last time a knee sprain was such good news for Trail Blazers fans.

As you know by now, a second MRI confirmed that Damian Lillard's injury Tuesday night was a sprain -- and not something a lot worse that would require surgery and a long rehab.

He won't be playing Wednesday night in Game 5 vs. the Lakers, but there's nothing wrong with that. The game has been rendered meaningless by now, with Los Angeles holding a 3-1 series lead. The NBA can now move on with the LeBron James Playoff Extravaganza, in search of a TV ratings bonanza.

And really, hasn't Damian Lillard done enough?

The important thing now is next season. Lillard took another step forward this year and with a healthy roster around him, Portland should have a chance to gain a decent playoff seeding and an opportunity for a good run.

Lillard's play in the seeding round of bubble play should not be forgotten. He was sensational -- the best player in the league through those games. He was spectacular game after game in leading his team into the playoffs.

The hope next season is that the Trail Blazers can cruise to a decent playoff seed without having to make him No. 1 in the league in minutes played. I've always believed he has had to carry such a heavy burden in the regular season that after the first round of the playoffs, he's exhausted. And as he gets better every season, the physical beating he has to take from opponents gets harsher. That can't keep happening.

 

The development of Gary Trent Jr. Anfernee Simons, Zach Collins and Nassir Little will be critical moving forward. Options for big-ticket free agents and major trades will be limited, so the pressure will be on to find improvement from within -- as well as a couple more slick Neil Olshey moves with minimum-salary free agents.

But with a presumably healthy Lillard next season, the future is still very bright in Portland.