I’ve heard that the Pacific Northwest is gorgeous. Waking up every morning with a spectacular view can do wonders for self-esteem. Maybe the view of the luscious greenery surrounding whatever palatial estate that $40 million per year can buy in the Portland area, makes it difficult for Damian Lillard to demand to be traded from the Trail Blazers.
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At the end of the 2022-23 regular season, Lillard was emphatic that he wanted the Trail Blazers to make moves toward championship contention immediately. He was not interested in a rebuild around young players who need time to develop.
With a valuable asset in the third overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Blazers chose to use the selection on a 19-year-old rookie instead of trading it for veteran help. For the 2023-24 season, if the Blazers stand pat, their starting backcourt will be Lillard and 6-foot-2 rookie Scoot Henderson.
Lillard met with the Blazers’ front office on Monday. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, there were no tables shaken, chairs tossed, or glasses shattered. Even with the Blazers’ drafting Henderson after Lillard specifically said that he was not for a rookie talent infusion, he did not press the organization. He is willing to wait out free agency and see what the front office is able to accomplish.
Free agency for the Blazers starts and could possibly end with Jerami Grant. He signed a 3-year $60 million deal with the Detroit Pistons in 2020. Grant has averaged around 20 points in each year of that deal, shot at least 35 percent from three, and is a solid defender. He has also reportedly already turned down a 4-year, $112 million offer from the Blazers, who traded for him last summer.
Grant is an ideal contributor to a championship contender, but the Blazers are currently far from that. They don’t have the necessary No. 2 scoring option or the team defense, and Grant is not the type of player who can seal those gaps.
The Blazers also re-signed Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkić last summer. If they offer Grant an extension there is no money left. What they have that is most valuable is all of their own first-round draft picks for the rest of the decade. To piece together a contender on the fly, a significant number of those will have to be dealt. That would mean mortgaging their future on a team that has promising young talent in Henderson and Shadeon Sharpe.
From what the Blazers have done up to this point it appears clear that pushing their future to the middle of the blackjack table is not the direction in which they are headed. For Lillard to still have patience at 32 years old having only advanced to the conference finals once, the man must enjoy his life.
His salary will only continue to rise. A player option in the final season of his contract could pay him more than $63 million. If he enjoys his community, his workplace, and being a short flight from his hometown of Oakland, why rock the boat?
A season in which the Trail Blazers largely punted could have had him upset in April, and then after a vacation, and reflection Lillard could remember the great life that he lives. Maybe he never wins an NBA MVP or Championship. Anyone who watched the NBA while he played will remember his time in it.
He put two teams out of the playoffs on buzzer-beating 3-pointers and was named one of the 75 Greatest Players of All Time. Lillard is considered one of the best teammates in the league, and again, let me reemphasize the money. A guy who played college basketball at Weber State might earn $500,000,000 before his career ends in salary alone.
So far this offseason, the Blazers have heeded little mind to what Lillard said at the end of the regular season. They went young when he wanted to go veteran. They have little flexibility and re-signing arguably their second-best player would end the 2023-24 season before it starts.
Maybe Lillard has a strategy on how he wants to pursue a trade. Maybe he legitimately believes in the vision of management. Or maybe he is simply where he wants to be and some disappointments at the office aren’t going to change that fact.
When you’ve earned nine figures, maybe it’s just nice to wake up every morning with a beautiful view.