Damian Lillard won't return to the court this season due to an injury, and the Portland Trail Blazers are fine with that decision. The franchise faces a challenging offseason where the new management will try to surround Damian Lillard with the right pieces to compete for the 2023 NBA championship.
The All-Star point guard has refused to leave Moda Center, as he wants to build something good in Oregon and try to compete for a championship. Things haven't played in his favor yet, but next season could be the one where everything changes for Dame.
Jerami Grant has been linked with a move to the Blazers, which would be a great addition to Lillard. However, that's not the only move they could make in the future, and Dame is excited about what's next for him and his team. Talking with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the former Rookie of the Year discussed his expectations for the next seasons and what he can achieve.
CH: What stood out to me is you said your best is yet to come. Looking at your situation in Portland, do you feel like your best is yet to come personally, or collectively with the Trail Blazers?
DL: “I think personally my best is yet to come 100 percent. Like I said, this is my first time being able to take a step back and just fully address my development. Over the course of my career, there have always been things that I've wanted to correct or get better at, but maybe I had a long season and went into the playoffs and then we had a quick turnaround. Whatever the case may be, I never had this much time to fully break down my game and really challenge myself development-wise. Working on things that I'm not comfortable with all the time, things that other guys at my position do really well. I’ve had a window of time and opportunity to add to my game and to watch film with my coaches and trainers to really address those things that a lot of times might be uncomfortable. Since I had my surgery in January, I’ll have around 10 months before the start of next season. So me having that amount of time to look in the mirror to address these things and get my body right, we'll get the most out of it and I'll be the best version of myself individually. And I also think we've taken some steps back as an organization, obviously with the moves that we've made [at the trade deadline]. But we've also positioned ourselves to do something that we haven't been able to do since I've been here, which is we’ve opened up money, we got picks, we got a $22 million trade exception, we got a $6 million trade exception, we got the full mid-level, we got the biannual. We have an opportunity, and we got flexibility. There are guys we can bring in that can make us a team that can compete for a championship, but we have to execute that.”
Lillard has always shown his confidence in his team and hopes that they assemble the best team to compete for the title. Asked if he still sees a championship in his career with Portland, Dame said he wants that and even more.
CH: A championship in Portland is still your desire?
DL: “That's the only thing I care about, honestly. It seems like after I announced that I was having surgery, people were like, ‘Oh, he's 31 and having this done.’ Man, 31 is not old. They act like you’re old when we have guys around the league older than me that are still playing at a high level. Also, my game is not based on me playing above the rim. I'm a sniper. I shoot. I got a good step. I can think the game. I can manipulate the game, and I know how to play. My game will age well, and I don't have a history of injuries. And the one that I just had is not a bad injury to have. I'm going to come back and be fine. Like I said, my best is yet to come. And the only things that I play for at this point is I want to be the MVP of the league and I want to win the championship. And once I do those things, I feel great about the investment that I made to this game over my whole life. If I accomplish those two things, I'm walking away feeling like I literally got the most out of myself as an athlete.”
Dame has big aspirations for the rest of his career. He's still in the middle of his prime and many people think he's just starting. Before injuries started bothering him, he was one of the most exciting players to watch in the league. If he gets the right help, he could reach the next level and take his squad to where they want to be for the foreseeable future.