They exit the NBA Playoffs in the first round for the fourth time in the last six years and the process of what happens next is already underway. Head coach Terry Stotts was relieved of his duties swiftly after losing on their own floor in game six. That will be the first of many.
This current crop of players has long been exhausted and continue to slip further away from the championship pack. The most important piece of the Portland puzzle remains Damian Lillard and whether he sees his future with the organisation or elsewhere.
Record breaking numbers
Damian Lillard played, by far, the best playoff series of his entire career. Lillard averaged 34.3 points per game on 46/45/94 splits. His true shooting stood at 66% as he set a record of 35 three-pointers made in a single NBA Playoff series. These numbers are unfathomable.
His game 5 showing was otherworldly as he constantly dragged the Blazers from the brink of defeat both in the fourth quarter and in the first period of overtime. Lillard hit a postseason record 12 threes in a game and did so making several clutch shots down the stretch. With five seconds left to play in the fourth quarter and Portland down by 3, Lillard sized up Michael Porter Jr before hitting a step back three with 3.2 left to force overtime.
In overtime with 1:03 seconds left and Portland down by 8, Lillard gave us yet another example of why he’s among the best players in the game today.
Trying to drive left, but guarded by Jokic, Dame gave the ball back out to Carmelo Anthony, before quickly regaining possession. With enough separation from Jokic, Dame Dolla hit a deep three as he willed his team from the brink of defeat. His exploits did not stop there.
Lillard hit ANOTHER clutch shot from downtown in the second period of overtime to tie up the game with 6.4 seconds remaining on the clock. The Blazers ultimately lost the game, thanks to MVP-in-waiting Nikola Jokic’s sensational performance, but that game will forever be remembered for what Damian Lillard produced.
Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty
Per ESPN Stats & Info, Damian Lillard became only the 4th player in NBA history (Jerry West, LeBron James, Oscar Robertson) with 200 points and 60 assists in a playoff series. Dame was the only player to accomplish this feat in 6 games. That’s the company Lillard is in numbers-wise, however, he has not achieved a modicum of success that replicates those names
Despite giving the Blazers all-time worthy performances, the team have continued to struggle for years. Portland are what they are. They will simultaneously be a top 10 offence in the NBA and a bottom 10 defence in the NBA. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor noted that in the series against the Nuggets, the Trailblazers were +27 in the 248 minutes with Dame.
In the 50 minutes without Dame, the Trailblazers were -35. As much as it testifies to Denver’s relentlessness to slaughter Portland with Damian (outscoring Portland by 35 points in the 50 minutes without Lillard), it shows a lack of invention from the Blazers to muster up offence without their best player.
The overreliance on Dame means the roster is not set up to hold steady in his absence. CJ McCollum had a career high in points this season and was a certain all-star up until his injury. His poor playoff showing will once again have him rumoured in trade discussions in order for the Blazers to complement Lillard with star/superstar quality.
Dame’s commitment to the Blazers and the city of Portland is admirable. In a league where player movement is so commonplace, he represents something of a bygone era of basketball. He was drafted by Portland and has professed his desire to only wear the jersey of one team.
This offseason will be the biggest test for Lillard. Following the loss to Denver, Dame posted a quote from rapper Nipsey Hustle that would have left fans in the Rose City wondering if this is the end of the road for Lillard in Portland – “How long should I stay dedicated long till opportunity meet preparation”.
New Kidd on the block?
With Terry Stotts no longer head coach of the team, the search for his successor begins.
Lillard has already sounded out Jason Kidd as an ideal candidate.
Kidd would represent a fresh approach in the Pacific North West. Currently an assistant to Frank Vogel with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kidd has previously coached the Brooklyn Nets to the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, as well as four years as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. For the Blazers to move for him would be a significant indication that they remain committed to Damian Lillard and giving him a voice in how the organisation operates.
The ball is firmly in Lillard’s court. His dedication to Portland has given him carte blanche on his future, despite having multiple years left on his deal. If he asks for a trade, the organisation will grant him his wish. Having seen other players in the league routinely team up and winning championships, Dame’s time as a Trail Blazer could be at an end.