Damian Lillard sounds willing to give the Portland Trail Blazers another try under a new coach.
The reportedly disgruntled point guard said he’s approaching next season as business as usual, declining to publicly air any grievances or issue a trade demand.
He referred to the Blazers as ‘we’ and noted that he and Chauncey Billups were friends before the latter was named head coach last month.
“I’m prepared to go in and do my job every year like I always do,” Lillard said Thursday following Team USA practice at Las Vegas. “Hopefully we make strides in a positive direction, and we can become a better team with a new coach. That’s where I am with it.”
Still, Lillard alluded to conversations with Blazers GM Neil Olshey about his feelings with an organization that seems to have hit a plateau. (The New York Knicks are among the many teams ready to make a run at Lillard if he becomes available on the trade market.)
“At this point, it’s a lot of things being said. Sometimes words being put in my mouth and I haven’t said anything,” Lillard said. “All of the people who have covered me since I’ve been here should know that if I have something to say, I’ll say it and stand on it. It’s been a lot of talk. Nobody has heard what I said, or I haven’t said anything. Everything I have to say, I’ve said to Neil directly. I don’t really have nothing to say to you guys about it. Everything I need to say and feel has been said to Neil.”
Much of the reporting regarding the 30-year-old’s growing impatience has come from Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, who is close with Lillard. A messy coaching search didn’t ease the rumors.
Lillard singled out Jason Kidd as a preferred candidate, but the Hall of Famer took himself out of the running and instead signed with the Mavericks. Lillard also named Billups, but his hiring coincided with the re-emergence of a sexual assault accusation from 1997, when the then-Celtics rookie settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.
Lillard washed his hands of the hiring decision.
“When we let Terry (Stotts) go, I was asked about names that had been floated out there,” Lillard said. “And the ones that had been floated out there, I said I like J-Kidd and I like Chauncey. At the time, I had no idea about any of (the sexual assault accusations). When I did learn of it and the process continued, I never felt it was my job or my duty to say ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do this.’ I do my job, improve my game and show up as the point guard of the team.
“I’ve known Chauncey before and I never knew of that until this coaching process came into play. Our organization said they did a thorough investigation and went through everything when they went through the process of hiring a coach that they did in a comfortable way.”
The Blazers were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years. They are capped out with few enticing assets and could trade former All-Star CJ McCollum to upgrade the roster. (As the New York Daily News reported, the Knicks are monitoring McCollum’s situation.)
But Lillard, a Second Team All-NBA selection, is the big prize and would cost the entire asset chest. He’s under contract for at least four more seasons so the Blazers are under no pressure to move the franchise’s greatest player since Clyde Drexler. But he could make things uncomfortable enough to force a move.
Lillard certainly didn’t take that route Thursday.