750 The Game Staff
Damian Lillard returns to Portland tonight. For the first time, he won’t play in Moda Center as a Blazer.
The Milwaukee Bucks are in town and Lillard is ready to suit up against the team that drafted him and in front of a city that embraced him for eleven years.
John Canzano (Afternoons 3-6 p.m. on 750 The Game) gave his thoughts on Lillard’s return and said he remains conflicted about how Lillard’s Portland career panned out.
“I went to a Starbucks coffeehouse today,” Canzano said on 750 The Game. “And the barista’s a big sports fan and he said to me, working in the back in the drive thru part, ‘Hey John, this is the game of the year for Blazer fans. I’m going tonight.’
“And I said – ‘That’s cool’. And I started thinking about it and said, gosh, if the game of the year for Blazer fans is, let’s go see the guy who left our team for Milwaukee, and that’s the game of the year? Man, that’s not how it should be. I’m not knocking on the fan, but that’s not how it should be. And that’s the fault of the organization, not the fanbase.”
Canzano says he expects the fans at Moda Center to welcome Lillard warmly when he is introduced in the starting lineup, in part because of how close the fanbase felt to their longtime star.
“I think in a lot of respects, Blazer fans empathize with Damian Lillard because they have been through it as well and have gone through it for decades,” Canzano said. “And Lillard, he gets drafted in 2012, he went through it as well. You went through it together. Granted, he made $250 Million dollars doing it and you got a lot of pain doing it, but you went through it together. You’re dealing with the same problems. A front office that kept talking about him as being the kind of player worth building around, and yet, ironically, never really built around him. And I just slap my forehead at that absurdity.”
The Bucks acquired Lillard in a trade in September that sent the Trail Blazers multiple players and first-round picks. Dame has had an up-and-down year first season in Milwaukee that has included some dramatic fourth quarter game-winners while also seeing the Bucks struggle on the defensive side of the floor and the firing of their first-year head coach, Adrian Griffin.
Canzano said he couldn’t help but look at what Milwaukee did to acquire Lillard and think that was a role the Trail Blazers should have played with Lillard still in town.
“It is interesting, the Milwaukee Bucks, a small-market team, with a star player that they drafted in Giannis (Antetokounmpo), come to Portland, and that’s the team, that’s the franchise that got your guy,” Canzano said. “A caller said it earlier – you expected to lose him to Miami, or the Lakers, or the Knicks, you can almost live with that. But what you don’t want is you lost him to the Sacramento Kings, or New Orleans, or Milwaukee, because it reminds you, isn’t that what the Blazers should have been doing? Shouldn’t they have been going out to find another star player to put alongside Damian Lillard all along? And they failed to do that.”
As for the return tonight, Canzano said he’ll be keenly watching Lillard and his approach to the game, nationally televised on ESPN.
“I’m not as into if the fans will give him a standing ovation as I am into — what is he going to do?,” said Canzano. “Is he going to try to drive a stake through the Blazers organization’s heart and score 50 or 60 and put on a show in the name of, damnit, this thing never should have ended. Does he make a statement tonight or not?”
John Canzano delivers the Bald Faced Truth afternoons 3-6 p.m. exclusively in Portland on 750 The Game.