Damian Lillard didn’t need to say a thing. Instead, he let the words of Richard E. Simmons sum up the state of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Thursday, as the rest of the starting lineup was leaving the Blazers one by one, Lillard posted on Twitter a passage from “The True Measure of a Man.”
“Nothing in life is permanent,” the paragraph began.
It ended with “Friends will continue to change, cities will change, businesses will change, and we, as individuals, will continue to change.”
Nothing exemplifies impermanence better than the Blazers right now. In the past 10 days, Nic Batum and Steve Blake were traded, Wesley Matthews agreed to join Dallas and Robin Lopez struck a deal with the New York Knicks, and LaMarcus Aldridge said he’s signing with San Antonio.
And the changes might not be finished. Between now and when the team reconvenes in the fall, expect President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey to continue tweaking the roster through trades.
The past two weeks have been painful for fans, who have seen the breakup of the Blazers’ most charismatic lineup since Drexler, Porter and Kersey.
It has been painful, but also necessary.
For as much as Matthews was the emotional heart of last year’s team, his $15 million per year asking price was too much for a player coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon. According to the Oregonian, the Blazers never made Matthews an offer, knowing there would be others who would pony up the cash.
For as much as the popular Lopez personified Portland’s weirdness, the $54 million over four years he’ll earn with the Knicks is too much for a center who is neither a prolific scorer nor rebounder. His on-court disappearing act at the end of last season likely punched his ticket out of town.
For as much as Aldridge has been central to the Blazers’ success during his nine years in Portland, the time is right for him to move on. Before last season, he made the pledge to sign a long-term contract with Portland and become “the best Blazer ever.” But whether something angered him or his nature is simply fickle, Aldridge’s failure to stand behind that promise is unbecoming. If I were to bet my franchise on a superstar, he would have to show more steadfastness than that.
For the Blazers, all bets are now on Lillard. Thursday, he agreed to a five-year extension worth up to $129 million that will be the richest contract in franchise history.
Lillard is the only certainty heading into next season for a team that has become drastically younger, but also more athletic and physical. Of the 12 Blazers tentatively under contract next season, only Chris Kaman (33), Gerald Henderson (27) and Ed Davis (26) are older than 25.
Next season could be rough. There’s no telling how the new lineup will gel. No crystal ball can predict which of Olshey’s projects will pan out.
But there are worse situations to be in than the Blazers. They have an all-star point guard in a guard-driven league. They have plenty of room under the salary cap to let Olshey firmly put his imprint on the roster. They aren’t saddled with huge contracts based more on past performance than current worth.
The Blazers have entered a season of change. It won’t be easy. It won’t always be pleasant to watch.
But as the passage cited by Lillard reminds us, change always comes.
And next season, the true measure of success for the Blazers will be how well they adapt to that change.