The Portland Trail Blazers “remain committed to build a winner” around Damian Lillard, general manager Joe Cronin said in a statement Monday. The news comes on the heels of a meeting that took place between Lillard and the team’s brass in which the two sides discussed the team’s direction moving forward. On Thursday, the Blazers used the No. 3 overall pick to select G-League Ignite point guard Scoot Henderson rather than trading the selection for a win-now asset. That decision led many to believe that Lillard, who turns 33 in July, would seek an exit to join a team better positioned to win right now. For the time being, however, the Blazers appear to be focused on finding a way to put a winner around Lillard without giving up Henderson.
Lillard, whom the Blazers drafted No. 6 overall in 2012, has spent his entire 11-year NBA career in Portland. In that time he has won Rookie of the year, made seven All-Star teams and seven All-NBA teams, and led the Blazers as far as the Western Conference finals. However, once they got there, the Blazers were swept by their persistent rival, the Golden State Warriors. Aside from that 2019 playoff run, the Blazers have not won a playoff series since 2016.
Those struggles have led to years of trade rumors. The Blazers, through two separate regimes, have never budged. They didn’t move him when the rumors reached a fever pitch in 2021. They didn’t move him even after dealing longtime backcourt partner C.J. McCollum in 2022. They insisted even after taking Henderson that they planned to keep Lillard until he retired. The message remains the same today.
The fit moving forward is going to be awkward if Lillard does indeed remain in Portland. Lillard and Henderson play the same position. The Blazers have also invested quite a bit of money in young guard Anfernee Simons, and last year’s No. 7 overall pick, Shaedon Sharpe, looks like a long-term keeper that needs developmental minutes as well. Finding playing time for all four guards is going to be difficult without a trade. And then, in the long-term, there is the financial commitment Portland has made to Lillard, who has four years left on his contract at max money. Will the Blazers be able to properly surround Henderson and Sharpe with younger talent as the age with Lillard taking up so much space on their balance sheet?
These are questions that will be answered with time, and Lillard himself has not yet addressed the public since the meeting, so where exactly he stands remains unclear. For now, however, the Blazers have stated their position: they do not want to trade their star point guard at this time.