It's Time to Ignore the Mindless Dame Lillard Trade Conjecture

Sean Highkin@@highkinFeatured Columnist IIIDecember 11, 2021

Injured Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard during an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

TUALATIN, Ore. — Damian Lillard is fed up with people claiming that they know what he should do. Or television talking heads and fans on Twitter seeming to think they know his priorities, or where they should be, better than he does.

The notion that Lillard is preparing to ask for a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers—which he didn't entirely shut down during the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo but has since made clear isn't on the table—has been around for a few years, in the sense that any star in a small market will have certain forces attempting to speak into existence a maneuver to a bigger city.  

But the chatter intensified following last Friday's firing of president of basketball operations Neil Olshey after an investigation found Olshey violated the team's code of conduct. Since then, there's been wall-to-wall coverage speculating about when the trade request is coming, where Lillard will want to go and what kind of packages various teams can offer.

The detail of Lillard himself saying, again, in no uncertain terms that he doesn't want to leave Portland—just as he did during training camp and on media day and has so many other times—has been treated as irrelevant. Clearly stated intentions from the man himself, repeated at every opportunity, can't derail what feels like a predetermined storyline.

"They don't know my life," Lillard said Friday after Blazers practice when this reporter asked him if the constant external questioning of his intentions bothers him. "I know these dudes are popular and national people, but they don't know me. They don't have my phone number, I don't know them personally, they don't have to live with the consequences of no decision that I make."

Over the summer, there was was legitimate reason to wonder if Lillard's days in Portland were numbered. He was understandably frustrated about the loss to a short-handed Denver Nuggets team in the first round of the playoffs, the Blazers' fourth first-round exit in five years. He was noncommittal about his future during the early part of the offseason.

But after a summer in which he won a gold medal with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics and married his longtime girlfriend, Kay'La Hanson, with whom he has three young children, he reaffirmed his commitment to the franchise.

Things haven't gone great since then. The Blazers are 11-15 through the first seven weeks of the season, and on more than one occasion, first-year head coach Chauncey Billups has called out the team's lack of effort.

Lillard himself has missed the last five games to rest an abdominal injury that has bothered him for several years (he said Friday he hopes to return Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves). He's also mired in the worst slump of his career, shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from three-point range.

The firing of Olshey looks like the kind of organizational turmoil that could push a superstar out of town. But Olshey's departure may have actually had the opposite effect.

Interim GM Joe Cronin, who has been with the organization since 2006, seems much more willing to take risks with the roster.

On Thursday, at his first press conference since taking over basketball operations, Cronin stated outright that the Blazers roster as it is has a "ceiling," something Olshey never came close to admitting despite it being obvious to most people around the league, not to mention Lillard.

Cronin also said he and Billups are "super aligned" on the direction of the squad. On Friday, after he finished speaking with reporters, Lillard sat on the bench at the team's practice facility talking with Cronin for at least 45 minutes.

That same day, ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe reported that Cronin has told teams he's not willing to discuss any trades involving the six-time All-Star and that he wants to continue to build around Lillard long-term.

Even though a potential Lillard trade is fan fiction at this point, you're going to keep hearing about it. It just draws too many eyeballs.

"I go out here and I answer these questions over and over again, and somehow still it's people skeptical of what I say," Lillard said. "It is what it is. You can't trust nobody in this industry. That's all it is. The thing I know is, I am who I say I am. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. You can criticize how I play or who I am as a player, that's one thing. But who I am as a person, the things I say, I mean them. That's one thing I can stand on. I know people can't challenge me on it."

Instead, there's been a sort of concern-trolling about what Lillard needs to do to get the most out of the rest of his career. He needs to request a trade because it's "what's best for him," according to those continuing to push the narrative. The sentiment has even taken root in some corners of the Blazers fanbase on Twitter, where it's become common to read that Lillard "deserves" to play for a contender elsewhere.  

"They can't say they have my best interests [in mind] when I don't know them," Lillard said. "I've never told someone I don't know personally that I have their best interests and meant it, when I don't know them. They can continue to talk. They can continue to say what they're gonna say. It is what it is. I really don't care no more."

What's best for Damian Lillard? No one knows the answer to that better than he does. At this point, all anybody can do is take him at his word.


Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon and lives in Portland. His work has been honored by the Pro Basketball Writers’ Association. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and in the B/R App.