BY HENRY ABBOTT
Fifty-five is a ridiculous number of points to score in an NBA game, no matter how many shots you take. Just 45 days ago, Blazers guard Damian Lillard—thanks to 12 3s, and 90 percent free-throw shooting—managed it while taking just 24 shots. It might have been the finest scoring performance in NBA history.
But the Blazers lost that game to the Nuggets.
That game cemented a narrative: The Blazers aren’t good enough for Lillard.
Now a source close to Lillard says that in the days to come, he plans to request a trade.
If this is a surprise, you haven’t been paying attention. As an organization, the Blazers have been melting since their playoff exit. Coach Terry Stotts was cut loose. Sources say billionaire Jody Allen plans to sell the team. The Blazers are prominent in trade rumors.
A coaching search resulted in a debacle of a press conference. GM Neil Olshey may have cost himself his job by ramming through his preferred candidate evidently without taking past rape accusations seriously. Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Conrad Wilson and Tony Schick found the Blazers had skipped several steps.
“It’s news to us that they conducted an investigation,” said Margaret A. Burnham, attorney for Jane Doe. ... Burnham said she remains Doe’s attorney 23 years later and that “we stand by the allegations.”
Throughout, there have been clues that Lillard’s die-hard Blazer loyalty may be ending. The well-sourced Chris Haynes of Yahoo on June 27:
Lillard has remained loyal to Portland in large part due to the tremendous fan base. But over the last few days, he’s seen some of those same fans attacking him on social media for a pending coaching hire he played no part in consummating, sources said.
Portland is currently in negotiations to make Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Chauncey Billups its next head coach.
The coaching search was conducted by Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations. None of the candidates who were interviewed were from suggestions from Lillard, sources said.
Sam @YAnunobyThis is on Dame IMO. They were always going to hire exactly who he wanted and he wanted Billups or Kidd. They put out names like Becky Hammon and Mike D’Antoni to cool off some of the backlash and hired the guy who they were always going to hire.
Lately Lillard has been with Team USA, mostly in Los Angeles, far from the Blazers drama. (Team USA has a history of inspiring NBA stars to dream of playing together. Time on Team USA bonded Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James before they assembled on the Heat.)
Last Thursday, Lillard told reporters he was prepared to do his job “every year like I always do” but stopped well short of endorsing anyone or anything about the Blazers.
Today is a big day for Lillard’s profile: Space Jam 2 is coming out. (Glenn Kelly’s New York Times movie review could just as well be about the Blazers’ summer: “sensory overload mostly yields head-spinning stupefaction.”) Lillard’s in the movie with LeBron James, and on the soundtrack with SAINt JHN, SZA, Lil Baby, Chance the Rapper, John Legend, Leon Bridges, Lil Wayne, and the Jonas Brothers.
The Dame D.O.L.L.A. lyrics are on a track called “About that Time,” with G-Eazy, P-Lo, and White Dave. There’s a theme of being on a mission and cutting dead weight.
Ay, I’m on East Oakland time
Either eat or get fed to the lions
Came from the bottom with the grind
Real town biz, I’m a problem in my prime
Lillard just turned 31. Time is of the essence and a theme. Lillard’s famous for “Dame Time,” when he obliterates opponents with big shots in crunch time, then taps his wrist.
I was shrinkin' the circle before the cake came
Now I make it do a back flip
Try to play me, probably end up with a fat lip
And you know I gotta stack chips
So you know what time it is if I tap wrist
The most certain thing in Blazerworld is that Lillard’s value is sky high around the NBA. He’s the preferred teammate of half the league, and a constant presence in trade speculation from the 76ers, Knicks, Warriors, and beyond.
Lillard’s value is so high that, in weeks past, the word from well-placed sources has been that Lillard simply would not be traded for two reasons:
He won’t be a free agent until 2024, so he has little leverage.
Having him on the roster helps the team valuation as Allen prepares to sell.
That math may have changed. The primary thing pushing down the team’s valuation, if sold today, is the appearance of broad disarray. Imagine being some billionaire planning to shell out a couple of billion for a sports team, and knowing the moment you did Stephen A. Smith would be on TV saying you had taken over a joke of a franchise? Billionaires can be ever-so sensitive.
Also: imagine if the team doesn’t trade Lillard, and then—like Anthony Davis in New Orleans—things become untenable. What new-to-the-NBA billionaire wants their first move to be ripping the heart out of Rip City? It’s easy to picture suitors to purchase the team asking Jody Allen to first stabilize the franchise.
You can see why Lillard is saying it’s About That Time.
Thank you for reading TrueHoop! In the days to come, for subscribers: examining Lillard trade options.