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NBA Draft Lottery: Damian Lillard’s face says it all, as Blazers face murky future after disappointing night

By on May 18, 2022 0

The fact that Damian Lillard showed up as a representative for the Portland Trail Blazers at Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago shows you how important that night was to the franchise. Well, I hope he can at least spend the mileage for the trip.

After a disappointing start to the 2021-22 season, coupled with abdominal surgery for Lillard, the Blazers decided to tank in a way hitherto unfathomed by the sports world. Boasting a roster full of fringe NBA and G Leaguers, Portland went just 2-21 after the All-Star break – yes, they won TWO games in nearly two months – in a bid to clinch a high draft pick to use on a promising prospect or to sweeten a potential deal for a game-winning assist now.

The Blazers entered the lottery with the sixth-worst record in the NBA, and therefore the sixth-best chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. Lillard introduced himself as a pro in an interview on the show, then sat uncomfortably in a patterned collared shirt when the order was revealed. When the time for the seventh pick came, however, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum spoke the dreadful words that Lillard and the city of Portland didn’t want to hear.

“The seventh pick in the NBA Draft belongs to the…Portland Trail Blazers.”

Not only did the Blazers fail to crack the top four, they actually fell one spot. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this video is a 200,000 word edition of “Moby Dick”.

Lillard’s initial disappointment eventually turned to laughter, and what can he do but laugh? Despite rampant speculation about potential trade demand following a report from Yahoo’s Chris Haynes last summer, Lillard has remained consistent in his message that he wants to stay in Portland. But that always comes with a caveat: Winning.

“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 have to position ourselves to compete for the championship and also where we we can continue to build in this direction,” Lillard told Haynes in March. “I think that’s really critical, [a] been critical where we need to capitalize.”

Lillard had a lackluster year before surgery sidelined him, but he’s still at the peak of his career, earning All-NBA honors in five of the previous six seasons. However, he will be 32 at the start of next season and he knows time is running out for his chance to be the best player in a Championship team. Right now, Lillard’s most exciting teammate with the Blazers is emerging guard Anfernee Simons, who is a restricted free agent this summer. Outside of Simons, there are a lot of question marks.

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In the same interview with Yahoo Sports in March, Lillard said he felt the Blazers had “stepped back as an organization” amid changes to the coaching staff and front office, as well as a trade that sent his longtime running mate CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans. He remained optimistic, however, that the team’s off-season flexibility would allow the Blazers to get back into contention.

Since then, things have become less optimistic. First, a late-season push from the Pelicans — ironically thanks in large part to McCollum — caused the Blazers to lose New Orleans’ 2022 first-round pick, which was seen as a key part of the trade. Portland would have received the pick if they were in the 5-14 range, but by winning two playoff games, the Pelicans earned the No. 15 draft pick, meaning it was passed on to the Charlotte Hornets rather than at Blazers.

Instead, the Blazers now receive a much less valuable 2025 first-round protected first-four finish from the Milwaukee Bucks, who will likely still be one of the best teams in the league by then. And the No. 7 pick in this year’s draft falls just outside the range of players considered potential franchise changers. The seventh best player on the big stage CBS Sports NBA Draft expert Kyle Boone is Duke rookie AJ ​​Griffin — an intriguing prospect, but probably not one that will make potential business partners salivate.

The Blazers also have cap space, but – assuming they’re not in the mix for James Harden or Zach LaVine – the free agent market is not really full of superstars ready to take Portland back to the Western Conference Finals. They could potentially throw a max offer sheet on a restricted free agent like Deandre Ayton, but teams will have the opportunity to match him.

All told, the path back to relevance is unclear for the Blazers, and Tuesday night’s lottery only complicated matters. Speculation of a trade request from Lillard will no doubt continue as the offseason approaches, but it’s also possible that he won’t have to take that step. If the Blazers see the writing on the wall, they could preemptively trade their superstar point guard and kick off a full-scale rebuild. There are plenty of suitors (and the superstars who play for them) who would gladly trade for Lillard, and the Blazers will likely fare better if they don’t wait for trade demand to crush any leverage they might. to have.

“If they came to me and they wanted to trade me — I’m not going to fight them for wanting to trade me,” Lillard told CNBC in April. “I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted. But I don’t think that’s the case.”