Damian Lillard, the sixth overall pick in 2012, has spent his entire career in Portland. He’d like to keep it that way, too.
Lillard, 30, has said that countless times, even signing a four-year contract with the Trail Blazers last summer. Nevertheless, rumors about a potential Portland exit persist.
“I find that whole conversation laughable, honestly,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said on The Zach Gelb Show. “How many times does he have to say he wants to be in Portland? He loves Portland. He’s not going anywhere. I think people try to stir up a conversation that isn’t there. He has said multiple times that he loves it here. He knows about Reggie Miller, he knows about John Stockton, those guys – the Dirk Nowitzki’s – who stay with one team their entire career. He wants to be that guy, and he wants to win a championship in Portland. I don’t know how many times he has to say that for it to become a non-story.”
It would likely become a non-story if Portland won an NBA title. The Blazers have made the playoffs six years in a row and reached the Western Conference Finals last season. Nevertheless, a title has remained elusive.
“A lot of things have to go well to win a title,” Stotts said. “I was very fortunate to go to the Finals one year in Seattle as an assistant and win a championship one year in Dallas as an assistant. Things have to break your way. You have to stay healthy. Obviously you have to be a good team, but I honestly felt coming into this season, that coming off the Western Conference Finals [last year] – when you go to the Western Conference Finals with a relatively young nucleus, you think you have a chance. When you have one of the best players in the league in Damian and a player like C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, you have a great foundation with a possibility to win a championship. That’s our mindset.”
Lillard and McCollum are one of the best duos in basketball, averaging 28.9 points and 22.5 points, respectively. At 29-37, the Blazers still have a chance to make the playoffs when the 2019-20 season resumes this week.
“It’s been challenging, and Damian is an outstanding leader,” Stotts said. “He never wavers in his belief of what we can do and what he can do. From a coaching standpoint, when your best player has that mentality, that makes it great. We’ve had our ups and downs [over the years]; the good thing about our team and our players throughout the years is we have good guys. Everybody is on the same page as far as trying to win games and do whatever it takes to win games. The results just haven’t been there.
“But I think Damian said it best,” Stotts continued. “He had his 30th birthday while we were here in Orlando. It was a nice dinner. C.J. arranged everything, and it worked out well. But Damian, he had his speech and he basically said, ‘Let’s not f’ing waste our time. Let’s all make this worthwhile.’ So I think that’s our mindset.”
Lillard, though, has been dealing with inflammation in his left foot and missed Sunday’s scrimmage with Toronto.
“He’s feeling better,” Stotts said. “We went through some things [Monday]. Not high intensity. We’ll make a decision on whether he plays [Tuesday] or not. If it’s in his best interest to not play [Tuesday] and give it another couple days’ rest, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Stotts does not think Lillard will miss Portland’s first game back Friday against Memphis (32-33).
“I don’t think so, no,” he said.