Damian Lillard Wants Out of Portland

An integral part of the city’s self-esteem asks for a trade.

Dame Time ran out.

For years, Portland Trail Blazers fans have debated where point guard Damian Lillard ranked among this city’s greatest basketball players, Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler. They crossed their fingers that his story would not end similarly to theirs, with a request for a trade to another team. That hope, slowly evaporating for some time, vanished this Saturday morning with the news, first reported by Turner Sports, that Lillard had asked to be traded.

Lillard’s meaning to Oregon cannot be overstated, although that won’t stop anybody from trying. Over 11 years, he launched the Blazers back into national significance with transcendent performances and dramatic shots—two of them walk-off 3-pointers as the clock expired on playoff series. More than that, he stubbornly pledged loyalty to Portland in a fraught era, becoming an integral part of not just Rip City’s sporting events but its civic self-esteem.

But the Blazers front office, under two general managers, never solved the puzzle of bringing comparable talent to surround Lillard. For the past two years, the team insisted it was attempting to help Lillard win a title, only to sink to the bottom of the NBA’s Western Conference standings and draft talented teenagers whose peak years were unlikely to dovetail with those of a star player well into his 30s.

The latest of these decisions—the drafting of G-League guard Scoot Henderson, who plays the same position as Dame—was widely seen as the last straw for Lillard and his agent. They will now seek to pressure Blazers general manager Joe Cronin into trading Lillard to the Miami Heat, a team that would become instant favorites to win a title but have few attractive assets to offer in return. Cronin will likely consider offers from the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers as well.

For the Blazers, Lillard’s impending departure will mean several years of bad basketball, and may increase pressure on owner Jody Allen to sell the team to shoe magnate Phil Knight. But the team is not bereft: Drafting Henderson and human highlight reel Shaedon Sharpe in the past two years means the Blazers have the potential to be exciting again soon.

What they will not be, however, is the team where Lillard wins a championship. On several occasions, he described to reporters a vision of bringing Portland its first title since 1977, and tracing the parade route where jubilant Oregonians hailed Walton.

“Like, I can’t express my desire and how bad I want to win it,” he told The Athletic in 2021. “I want that more than anything. Not just to say I won a championship. But I want to do it in this city. I want to have a parade on Broadway and ride past El Gaucho [steakhouse]. That’s what I think of.”

Whatever else is coming, that dream is over.

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