It is difficult to part.
Damian Lillard addressed a trade request on Sunday for the first time since reports of a trade offer from the Portland Trail Blazers, with a message to disappointed fans.
The seven-time All-Star and 2011 Trailblazer responded to a tweet from a Portland sports radio host expressing surprise at “how many fans are watching Lillard today.” Lillard chose, as he puts it, “the royal road.” And he has a question for his fans.
“Taking the royal road is in my blood,” Lillard wrote. “I want to know what my fans are interested in…Have I misled my fans? Or who? Fill me in.”
Is it natural for fans to be mad at Lillard?
Lillard asked for trade from Portland, sources say Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill confirmed. Saturday. The Miami Heat is his preferred destination.
The news is a blow to the Trail Blazers and to the fan base that is gearing up for the departure of one of the franchise’s best and most loved players since Clyde Drexler. Lillard remained loyal to the Trail Blazers over the years, even though they never had the pieces to contend for an NBA championship. He envisioned remaining in Portland for the rest of his career, he told The Dave Pash Podcast in September 2022.
“As long as we feel our organization is doing its best and have the same mindset that we will do whatever it takes to win, I’m willing to go all out,” Lillard said. … “I want to win in Portland.”
It’s a phrase Lillard has repeated over the years, even though the Trail Blazers have failed to team up with an All-Star player for eight straight seasons. The last Lillard to play with as an All-Star was LaMarcus Aldridge in 2014-15. Lillard really enjoyed playing for the Blazers and wanted to end his career there. But while he wanted to have a chance to win, the recent Trail Blazers move made that even less likely.
Portland is prioritizing the future, picking Scoot Henderson (2023) and Shadon Sharp (2022) in the recent draft. Instead of trading those premium draft assets for players who can play right now, the Blazers have invested in 19- and 20-year-olds whose prime is still a few seasons away. Meanwhile, Lillard’s prime is now. And he’s at the end of it.
And while he appeared to be waiting for Portland’s decision throughout the draft and start of free agency, the details have been revealed. His only reasonable chance of winning an NBA championship lies elsewhere. The Heat team, which has Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo fresh off the NBA Finals, is definitely a better spot.
Did Lillard “mislead” someone?
Lillard asked Sunday if he had “misled” anyone. He has reiterated his loyalty to the Trail Blazers, but also cautioned that the franchise must work with him to win the championship. He revealed his feelings in an interview with Pash in qualifying, saying, “We’re on the same page in terms of doing everything we can to win.”
Addressing trade rumors, he laid out the blueprint for a competitive Trail Blazers roster in a pre-draft interview in June on Showtime’s podcast “The Last Stand.”
“We want a chance to win in Portland, and now we have a chance to build a competitive team on the asset side,” Lillard said. “That would be the best thing to do, but if you can’t do that, obviously as I’ve been saying over the last few months, it’s going to require another conversation.”
When the Trail Blazers failed to turn those assets into winning players, Lillard reached a breaking point to have “another conversation.” And now his withdrawal from Portland seems inevitable.
For Portland fans who have watched one of the NBA’s most exciting players for 11 seasons, the news is a difficult and emotional blow. This is not easy and should not be expected. But the fan anger directed at Lillard is misplaced — even if they’re understandably upset.
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