Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is willing to sit out the 2021-22 season if the front office doesn't improve the roster before opening night, according to Henry Abbott of TrueHoop.
That option would likely be a last resort for Lillard, who would reportedly only sit out if he does not feel the team has made significant steps towards contending and the Blazers refuse to trade him.
"Sources say Damian Lillard is willing to forgo paychecks to get to a title team, if it comes to that. He doesn’t have LeBron’s reported billion in the bank, but his agent Aaron Goodwin has monetized Lillard’s combination of electric game-winners and a lack of controversy. Lillard is one of the NBA’s biggest off-court earners, with multimillion dollar deals with Adidas, BioFreeze, and others. Before his contract extension, Lillard has made almost $300 million. (That’s more than Paul Allen spent to purchase the Blazers.) Thanks to his endorsements, his net worth will continue to ascend whether he plays or not."
Following Portland's hiring of Chauncey Billups to replace Terry Stotts, Lillard told reporters they need more than a head coach to compete for NBA titles.
"I don't disagree that maybe Chauncey can change our team and make us a better team," Lillard said on July 16. "But I think if you look at our team as it is, I don't see how you say 'this is a championship team, we just need a new coach.'"
Sitting out does have its limits, even as far as extreme options go.
Lillard is signed through the 2024-25 season and is the longtime face of the franchise. While he's been clear about his desire to win now, what's less clear is which players the Blazers are willing to move to make that happen.
Portland could also look at free agent options like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Victor Oladipo and Cameron Payne, but none of those players alone is guaranteed to turn the Blazers into Western Conference challengers. Abbott believes Lillard could attempt to force a trade using similar tactics as James Harden last year.
Harden reported to training camp late after demanding a trade and seemingly played himself onto a title contender when the Brooklyn Nets acquired him early in the season.
"Lillard, sources say, is open to running the same play," Abbott wrote. "This far-from-free agency maneuvering can seem audacious. Some around the NBA laugh at the idea that Lillard would risk losing so much money. But if Lillard is ready to sit at home, foregoing his NBA salary, until he’s satisfied, the Blazers must listen."
As much as Lillard is firmly a Portland Trail Blazer at the moment, he controls his future as much as the franchise does. While the relationship hasn't deteriorated to the point of Lillard publicly saying he wants to play elsewhere, he appears to be getting ready to reach the point of no return in Portland should the team fail to improve.