Lillard, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, has been brilliant in his short time in the league. Aside from his personal accolades and accomplishments, he's helped put the Portland Trail Blazers back on the map and into the playoffs.
Unfortunately, it's a guard-heavy league, and Team USA was particularly stacked at the point. As a result, Lillard was cut for the first time of his life.
Here's Joe Freeman of the The Oregonian explaining what happened:
Lillard entered camp in a fierce battle for a roster spot, competing among a loaded group of NBA All-Star point guards that featured John Wall, in addition to Rose, Irving and Curry. But while Lillard's superior shooting ability and positional versatility seemed a perfect marriage with Team USA, he couldn't survive the last round of cuts.
The initial shock should wear off quickly for Lillard, but the motivation derived from being left off a team is the sort of thing that can burn for quite some time.
Here's what Lillard told said in a text message to Freeman of The Oregonian about being cut:
You know me, man...I'm not worried or down about the situation.
I know for a fact it was nothing I did or did not do to not make the team. That's just a part of it.
More wood on the fire...Not my first time being put off and probably not the last.
It's interesting to consider Lillard's background in all of this. Although this is his first time being actually cut from a team, it's not his first time being readily dismissed. After all, this was a player who took a road less traveled by going to Weber State out of high school. The program isn't exactly considered one of the big boys.
Lillard was largely off the map at Weber State, but he worked his way into the draft discussion after four years and overcame the uphill battle to make it to the NBA. That usually doesn't happen to four-year seniors from smaller schools these days.
Unlike many other players in the NBA, it wasn't Lillard's size that made him stand out above the rest. He generated interest as a direct result of how well he played, and how hard he worked. That's not to say that big men don't earn their hype, but it's different from what guards experience.
But for all NBA players, finding new sources of motivation are important. Once players reach the pinnacle of your career, some find it hard to maintain the same drive that got them there. It can feel like it's all about maintenance instead of growth at that point.
Sometimes a little outside motivation is welcomed. Whether it's what someone writes in an article, or another player being disrespectful or getting cut from a team, it can be a huge benefit to have a chip on your shoulder.
Players like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan would look for any perceived slight to inspire and, perhaps, justify their insane competitive nature and work ethic.
Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) August 25, 2014
Even though getting snubbed can temporarily bruise an ego, ultimately, it can lead to much better things. When Lillard sees during the upcoming NBA season one of the guards that was picked ahead of him during the season, he'll have all the more motivation to prove he's better. Maybe it will make him defend a little harder, which would be a welcome sight, as it's really the only hole in his game right now.
Of course, there's the unintended benefit of being left out of international competition as well. While injuries can happen at anytime, not participating in high level basketball overseas may minimize Lillard's injury risk as well.
Here's David Goodman for HoopsHabit:
To put it simply, if the Trail Blazers are going to move to the next level, they’re going to do it on the shoulders of Lillard. He averaged 20.7 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds last season and played in all 82 games in 2013-14.
He is the leader of this team and his importance to the franchise cannot be understated. And his attention needs to be focused squarely on next season.
Playing in the FIBA World Cup and representing your country is always an honor, there is no question. But for Portland, having a healthy and undistracted Lillard able to concentrate on the upcoming year has to be a huge plus.
Imagine if Lillard suffered an injury during the tournament, where would that leave the Trail Blazers? What would they do then?
Should Damian Lillard have made Team USA?
Whether it's the added motivation or the decreased chance of injury, Lillard could certainly turn this negative into a positive rather convincingly.
While the experience of playing with and against other elite players can certainly help a young player reach the next level, so can a snub like this one. Lillard seems to thrive off people doubting him, and this season he'll have the chance to show everyone that it was a mistake leaving him off Team USA's final roster.
That's all you can ask for.