Breaking up is hard.
Damian Lillard made his trade request Sunday for the first time since announcing his desire to be traded by the Portland Trail Blazers with a message for discouraged fans.
The 11-year-old seven-time All-Star and Trail Blazer responded to a tweet from a Portland sports radio host who expressed surprise at the “number of fans turning to Lillard today.” Lillard, in his words, took “the high road”. And he has a question for said fans.
“It’s in my blood to take the high road,” Lillard wrote. “I’d love to hear what the fans are turning on…did I mislead them (sp)? Or anyone? Fill me in.”
Are fans right to be mad at Lillard?
Lillard asked for a trade out of Portland, sources confirmed to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports SATURDAY. The Miami Heat are his favorite destination.
The news is a blow to the Trail Blazers and a fanbase now bracing for the impending release of the franchise’s best and most beloved player since Clyde Drexler. Lillard has long remained loyal to the Trail Blazers, even though they failed to surround him with pieces to compete for an NBA championship. He told the Dave Pasch podcast in September 2022 that he plans to stay in Portland for the rest of his career.
“As long as I feel like our organization is doing its best and we’re on the same page to do everything we can to win, then I’m ready to go out,” Lillard said. … “I want to win in Portland.”
It’s a refrain Lillard has long repeated even though the Trail Blazers have failed to team him with another All-Star for eight straight seasons. The last All-Star Lillard played alongside LaMarcus Aldridge in 2014-15. Lillard seems to have really enjoyed playing for the Blazers and wanted to end his career there. But he wanted to do it with a chance to win, a proposition that has become increasingly unlikely with the Trail Blazers’ recent moves.
Portland has prioritized its future with its recent draft selections of Scoot Henderson (2023) and Shaedon Sharpe (2022). Instead of trading those premium draft assets for players ready to compete now, the Blazers invested in 19- and 20-year-olds whose premiums remain for multiple seasons. Lillard’s first, meanwhile, is now. And he is in the background.
And while he seemed to be waiting for Portland’s decisions through the draft and the start of free agency, the writing became clear. His only reasonable chance of winning an NBA championship is elsewhere. A Heat team with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo that just made it to the NBA Finals is definitely a better place.
Did Lillard “cheat” anyone?
Lillard asked on Sunday if he had “cheated” on anyone. Although he repeatedly reiterated his loyalty to the Trail Blazers, he also included a caveat – that the franchise must commit to him to win a championship. He made those feelings clear in his interview with Pasch with the qualifier of being “on the same page to do whatever we can do to win.”
He outlined his plan for a competitive Trail Blazers roster in a June pre-draft interview with Showtime’s “The Last Stand” podcast while addressing trade rumors.
“I want the opportunity to win in Portland, and right now we have an asset-wise opportunity to build a team that can compete,” Lillard said. “That would be the No. 1 thing, but if we can’t do that, then obviously, like I’ve been saying for months now, then that’s a separate conversation we’ll have to have.”
When the Trail Blazers failed to convert those assets into winning players, Lillard reached his breaking point to have that “separate conversation.” And now his exit from Portland seems inevitable.
For Portland fans who have had the pleasure of watching one of the NBA’s most exciting players for 11 seasons, the news is a tough and emotional blow. It won’t and shouldn’t be easy. But any fan anger directed at Lillard is misguided — although it’s understandable that they’re upset.