On ESPN First Take’s ranking of the NBA’s “primetime” players, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard came in at 9th, in front of Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler, and Russell Westbrook — to name just a few.
But his ranking comes in spite of his underwhelming postseason resume. Though Dame has helped Portland make the playoffs many times over the course of his career, he has no Finals appearances to show for it.
According to Stephen A. Smith, that won’t change as long as Dame is with the Blazers. Here’s what he said on the show yesterday morning after being asked what it would take for him to win a Chip:
“Leave Portland. That’s what it would take. He needs to leave Portland, period. I’m not saying anything about him that I did not tell him already, he knows how I feel about him. He knows I think he’s big-time, I thought he deserved to be first-team All-NBA last season even ahead of Steph Curry because Steph Curry has hampered by injuries obviously and Damian Lillard guided the Portland Trail Blazers to the Conference Finals and, obviously six consecutive trips to the postseason. This brother is averaging a minimum of 25 a game over the last five seasons. He is an All-Star, he is a big-time shot-maker.
What I would say to you, however, is this: I love him and CJ McCollum together, and they are an elite backcourt. I don’t believe the two of them together, based on how the league is constructed, can win a Championship together in Portland. So one of them has got to go for you to acquire great assets for the other to shine without having to share the basketball.”
So where should Dame go? Smith seemed pretty sold on the idea of him teaming up with LeBron in Lakerland.
“The Lakers, I would’ve — could you imagine if LeBron had Damian Lillard to kick the ball out to? LeBron James and Anthony Davis with Damian Lillard to kick the ball out to — who could pull up from 40! Literally 40. That would be something special.”
Indeed, both Dame, and his partnership with McCollum, is elite. This season, he’s averaging 28.9 points, 7.8 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game on 45% shooting. Together, the two account for an average of about 50 points per game for their team, and despite injuries and major offseason changes, they are keeping the Blazers in the playoff race in the West.
But is there hope that they can win together? We’ve seen flashes of what they can do before and those signs certainly look encouraging. So far, however, they haven’t been able to maintain their heroics long enough to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. With the Lakers, that result wouldn’t just be more likely, it’d be expected.
Still, Dame doesn’t seem like the type to jump ship, even for LeBron James and the Lakers.
Only time will tell.