Damian Lillard addresses fans critical of his reported trade request: Have I misled them?
Breaking up is hard to do.
Damian Lillard addressed his trade request Sunday for the first time since news broke of his desire to be dealt from the Portland Trail Blazers with a message for despondent fans.
The seven-time All-Star and 11-year Trail Blazer responded to a tweet from a Portland sports radio host who expressed surprise at "the number of fans turning on Lillard today." Lillard, in his words, took "the high road." And he has a question for said fans.
Are fans right to be upset with Lillard?
Lillard requested a trade out of Portland, sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill Saturday. The Miami Heat are his preferred destination.
The news is a blow for the Trail Blazers and a fanbase now preparing for the pending exit of the franchise's best and most beloved player since Clyde Drexler. Lillard has long remained loyal to the Trail Blazers, even as they failed to surround him with pieces to compete for an NBA championship. He told The Dave Pasch Podcast in September 2022 that he envisioned remaining in Portland for the rest of his career.
"As long as I feel that our organization is putting their best foot forward and we're on the same page about doing everything that we can do to win, then I'm willing to go out swinging," Lillard said. ... "I want to win in Portland."
It's a refrain that's Lillard's long repeated even as the Trail Blazers have failed to team him up with another All-Star for eight consecutive seasons. The last All-Star Lillard played alongside was LaMarcus Aldridge in 2014-15. Lillard appears to have genuinely enjoyed playing for the Blazers and wanted to finish his career there. But he wanted to do so with a chance to win, a proposition that became increasingly unlikely with recent Trail Blazers moves.
Portland has prioritized its future with its recent draft selections of Scoot Henderson (2023) and Shaedon Sharpe (2022). Instead of trading those premium draft assets for players ready to compete now, the Blazers have invested in 19- and 20-year-olds whose primes remain several seasons away. Lillard's prime, meanwhile, is now. And he's on the back end of it.
And while he appeared to wait out Portland's decisions through the draft and the start of free agency, the writing became clear. His only reasonable chance to win an NBA championship is elsewhere. A Heat team featuring Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo that just made the NBA Finals is certainly a better spot.
Did Lillard 'mislead' anyone?
Lillard asked on Sunday if he had "misled" anyone. While he's repeatedly stated his loyalty to the Trail Blazers, he's also included a caveat — that the franchise must be committed alongside him to winning a championship. He made those feelings clear in his interview with Pasch with the qualifier about being "on the same page about doing everything that we can do to win."
He laid out his blueprint for a competitive Trail Blazers roster in a pre-draft June interview with Showtime’s "The Last Stand" podcast while addressing trade rumors.
When the Trail Blazers failed to convert those assets into win-now players, Lillard reached his breaking point to have that "separate conversation." And now his exit from Portland appears inevitable.
For Portland fans who've had the pleasure of watching one of the NBA's most exciting players for 11 seasons, the news is a difficult, emotional blow. This won't be and shouldn't be expected to be easy. But any fan ire directed at Lillard is misguided — even as it's understandable that they'd be upset.
Damian Lillard addresses fans critical of his reported trade request: Have I misled them? (n.d.). https://sports.yahoo.com/damian-lillard-addresses-fans-critical-of-his-reported-trade-request-have-i-misled-them-234712394.html