Damian Lillard is one of the most exciting and clutch players we’ve seen in the NBA this era. He is the embodiment of the road less traveled in the modern NBA, where superstars of his ilk want to jump ship when they’re disgruntled or hop to play with the best.
While many of his elite peers have turned into journeymen in pursuit of a championship, Lillard remains humble, hungry, and ten toes to Portland’s soil.
He was sidelined with an abdominal surgery that he’s been rehabbing since January, and according to an interview with Yahoo Sports on March 25, he’s going to be coming back next year with a fire in him.
“I think personally my best is yet to come 100 percent. Like I said, this is my first time being able to take a step back and just fully address my development,” Lillard said following his injury rehab.
He is now taking this time and valuable rest to allow the pain in his abdomen clear up, to sit back and reflect on the season and what’s to come. This is very much necessary given the many challenges the Portland Trail Blazers are facing in the near future.
Is Portland On The Way Up Or Rebuilding Again?
The team lost their second-best player CJ McCollum in a trade with the Pelicans, the competition in the West is getting no easier, with teams like the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, and the Golden State Warriors in position to contend for championships for years to come.
Not to mention the Blazers weren’t so hot when Lillard was on the court, having a 13-22 record at the time of Lillard’s last game. Since his injury, it predictably got worse for Portland, which have won just 14 games since Lillard went down. So Lillard definitely wasn’t the X factor in Portland this year, which leads to questions beyond his return that the Trail Blazers organization needs to address.
Portland’s onslaught of injuries has also been a problem. In addition to Dame DOLLA, they have five other players who are out for the season, and usually those types of season-ending injuries extend into the offseason and take away from your progress as a player leading into the following season.
So from an outside standpoint there seems to be a cause for concern for this franchise, but Lillard thinks otherwise. The six-time NBA All-Star doesn’t feel like they have to be in a ‘win-now’ mindset, but rather they need to accumulate assets to build up a team to compete in the Western Conference for years to come.
“I don’t think we’re in a situation where it’s like, we have to win the championship next year, or it’s a failure, but we just need to position ourselves to compete for the championship and also to where we can continue to build in that direction,” Lillard said. “I think this is definitely critical, [a] critical summer where we have to capitalize.”
Huge Summer Ahead For Portland Trail Blazers
In that statement he recognizes that there are challenges for this organization moving forward, and that this summer is going to be influential to Portland’s chances of success next season.
Before his injury, through 29 games played this season Lillard averaged 24 points on 40 percent shooting — 32 percent from three-point range — seven assists and four rebounds. He was on pace for another All-Star-caliber run, and even though Portland wouldn’t have been a top team, maybe they’d have been in contention for a spot in the play-in tournament with his clutch shooting.
With McCollum gone, young stud Anfernee Simons stepped up and Jusuf Nurkic also has been a solid piece, so moving forward the Trail Blazers have a nice core to build around. They will also have a decent pick due to their record, and will also be looking to make trades in the offseason.
With the right moves and the resurgence of their franchise superstar, Portland won’t be nearly as incapable of competing next season.