By STEVEN VAUGHAN, 750 THE GAME
The direction of the Blazers is up in the air right now. Should they try to build a contender around Damian Lillard? Or should they draft a player with the third pick in the draft and risk that Lillard becomes unhappy with the team’s timeline?
If you ask 100 Blazers fans, I’m willing to bet it will be close to a 50-50 split. Some want the draft pick. Some want it flipped for a veteran difference-maker.
I have made the case that if 19-year-old point guard Scoot Henderson is available with the third pick in the draft, the Blazers have to pick him.
It doesn’t seem that Damian Lillard agrees with me.
Lillard was on SHOWTIME’s The Stand Podcast with Brian Custer in an episode published Tuesday. Lillard said even if he was traded to a team with a better chance of contending for a title, nothing is guaranteed in the NBA.
“They could trade me somewhere where we all say, ‘this is a contender’. But what is it gonna cost for me to get there?” Lillard continued, “How is it a guarantee that we’re gonna be playing in June when I get there? How do we know if everyone is going to be healthy? How do we know if everything is going to work out?”
Lillard said that nothing has ever changed. He wants to win in Portland.
“I think I’ve made it clear what my wishes are,” Lillard said. “I want to have an opportunity to win in Portland.”
Lillard reiterated his belief that GM Joe Cronin has the pieces to set up a top-flight roster this offseason.
“We got an opportunity, asset-wise, to build a team that can compete. That would be the number one thing.
“But if we can’t do that, then, you know, obviously like I’ve said for months now, that would be a separate conversation.”
If the Blazers decide to use the draft pick on a player, it may very well be the beginning of the end for Damian Lillard in Portland.
You have to give Dame a lot of credit for being consistent on this topic for years. He has never once stated he wants to leave. He has always said he wants to win in Portland.
The question the Blazers — and Lillard — have to ask themselves: Can they win together?