Damian Lillard Ends All Doubt: His Season Is Over

In an interview with Draymond Green, Lillard expresses confidence he can attract free agents to Portland.

The Portland Trail Blazers technically have 23 games left, but two announcements have made it clear their season is functionally over.

One announcement came directly from the team—starting center Jusuf Nurkic is out for at least four weeks with a previously unmentioned foot injury.

There’s only about a month and a half left in the regular season, so it’s possible that Nurkic, and his 15 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, is done for the year.

Meanwhile, Nurkic’s superstar teammate, Damian Lillard, dropped a parallel statement on Draymond Green’s podcast. When asked if he intended to play again this season as he recovers from a Jan. 13 abdominal surgery, Lillard bothered with only a bare minimum of obfuscation.

“When I first had the surgery, I was more optimistic,” Lillard said. “But I think where we are right now and what we need to happen for us to be able to take full advantage of the opportunity we created with all the moves we made, I don’t even think that’s the play to make. I ain’t a thousand percent sure, but at this point I’m not sure how much sense it’d make.”

Even after an unexpected four-game win streak on the heels of trading multiple rotation players, the Blazers are wallowing in the bottom third of the standings. Playing to win for the rest of the season likely means a very low playoff seed, at best, and a first-round loss to the Suns or Warriors. Fun!

The announcement that the Blazers will spend a huge chunk of their remaining games without their two best players makes it clear that the tank is on. Rather than chase the Pyrrhic victory of a ninth consecutive postseason appearance, they will hope to fall in the standings and improve their odds of landing a top pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. Several bona fide stars, including Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, will be up for grabs.

The sad reality is that losing more games now likely increases the chances that Lillard will have an All-Star teammate for the first time since LaMarcus Aldridge left in 2015. That’s something that weighs heavily on his mind when he talks about other stars around the league.

“In many cases, nobody has had to [leave their team],” Lillard told Green. “They’ve been afforded these opportunities to play with the best. I have not.”

For his part, Nurkic’s future with the Blazers is less clear. The Bosnian Beast will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, eligible to sign with any team he wants. (The wink-wink announcement made today does suggest that there’s nothing left to prove in the coming weeks to possible suitors. It’s not hard to read between these lines.)

The take-home message for Blazers fans is that suspicions have been confirmed. For the next 23 games, lottery balls will be more important to the franchise’s future than final scores.

Related: We found the cheapest Blazers tickets at the end of a lost season.

In addition to setting themselves up for a chance to draft a superstar, the Blazers will also have the option to be players on the free agent and trade market for the first time in several years. While many pundits worry that top players will never move to Portland of their own volition, Lillard dismisses those concerns.

“No offense, but people going to Oklahoma City, bro,” Lillard said to a cackling Green. “People going to Milwaukee….Portland ain’t what people think it is—otherwise I wouldn’t be living here so long.”