Damian Lillard wants to be as clear as possible. He has not requested a trade away from the Trail Blazers.
But at the same time, he hasn’t decided his preferred path for the 2021-22 NBA season either.
Lillard spoke about his status on Friday afternoon after a USA Basketball practice. He denied the trade rumors that had swirled around social media all day but also said that he hadn’t made a “firm decision” on his future.
“I woke up to those reports and a lot of people reaching out to me. It’s not true,” Lillard said to reporters. “I said the last time I spoke to you guys a lot of things have been said, but it isn’t coming from me. No. 1, it’s not true. Secondly, I haven’t made any firm decision on what my future will be. There’s really no need for anybody else to speak for me or report this or report that. If there’s something to be said — as I said the last time — I’ll speak directly with my team and Neil (Olshey). That’s that.”
Though he balked at talks of making a firm decision, Lillard did say that he expects to be back in Portland to start the 2021 season.
However, he also indicated that he wants the Trail Blazers to upgrade his supporting cast instead of relying on new coach Chauncey Billups to come in and fix everything.
“I don’t disagree that maybe Chauncey can change our team and make us a better team,” Lillard said. “But I think if you look at our team as it is, I don’t see how you say ‘this is a championship team, we just need a new coach.'”
The Trail Blazers have been eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs four of the last five years. The team’s defense has ranked bottom five in defensive efficiency in each of the past two seasons.
Portland has made it out of the first round just three times total since Lillard was drafted in 2012 despite him averaging 25.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game during his postseason career.
Lillard is set to meet with Billups and Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey at USA Basketball’s camp in Las Vegas. He insists that a meeting would’ve happened regardless of the trade rumors, but also added that “there’s a conversation to be had” between the three parties this time.
Despite the ominous words, it sounds like Lillard has a preferred outcome: staying in Portland and playing for a championship contender.
“Right now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” Lillard said. “What I can say is my heart has always been set on being in a Trail Blazers uniform for my entire career. Over time, you want to win it all. I want to win it all in a Trail Blazers uniform, but we all have to be making strides towards that.”