Damian Lillard 'Helping Us Build' Blazers Roster, Interim GM Joe Cronin Says

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVApril 11, 2022

PORTLAND, OREGON - APRIL 10: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers speaks to fans during fan appreciation night before the game against the Utah Jazz at Moda Center on April 10, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Damian Lillard calling the shots.

The Portland Trail Blazers superstar guard is playing an even more active role in shaping the team's roster going forward, interim general manager Joe Cronin told reporters Monday. 

"We've pivoted to Damian helping us build this roster, learning the salary cap," he said. "He knows more about trade exceptions than anyone in this room."

The comments were somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it should be noted:

Sean Highkin @highkin

FWIW, Dame's last public comments (to <a href="https://twitter.com/ChrisBHaynes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ChrisBHaynes</a> a couple weeks ago) got pretty detailed about the team's salary cap situation. He and Cronin have spent a lot of time talking on the court before games this season. He's clearly been briefed <a href="https://t.co/eSqnvXMwRt">https://t.co/eSqnvXMwRt</a> <a href="https://t.co/a9xizP1zhL">pic.twitter.com/a9xizP1zhL</a>

The 2021-22 season was one of transition for the Blazers. It was the first year for head coach Chauncey Billups, and Lillard played just 29 games for Portland before abdominal surgery in January ended his season. 

So the Blazers chose to undergo a rebuild on the fly, trading Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a 2025 second-rounder (from the Detroit Pistons) ahead of February's trade deadline.

If the Blazers choose to move on from Bledsoe ($19.4 million salary next season, though only $3.9 million is guaranteed), that trade will end up netting the Blazers around $6.2 million in salary-cap space this offseason. 

They weren't done there, trading Dame's longtime running mate CJ McCollum alongside Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell to the New Orleans Pelicans for Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Tomas Satoransky, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (Nos. 1-4; 15-30) and two second-round picks. 

That deal not only netted the Blazers valuable draft capital for their rebuild but also cleared around $28 million more off the books this offseason. 

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Portland's plan is to fully reshape roster around Damian Lillard now. Portland created a $21M trade exception today, potentially $60M in salary cap space this summer, multiple draft picks and assets via Pels and Clippers trades. Plan is to pursue high-end talent now, not retreat.

That cap space will give the Blazers the flexibility to build around Lillard in free agency, with an already decent core in place.

Sean Highkin @highkin

And Josh Hart.

And all indications are that Lillard—who was regularly the subject of trade rumors last summer but chose to stick it out in Portland—has remained fully committed to the Blazers. 

"A tough season, a lot of adversity this year. A lot of things came up that we didn't expect," Lillard told fans before the team's season finale Sunday. "But I want you to know one thing: This will not continue. Next year we're gonna be back better than before."

It would appear that Lillard is taking a hands-on approach to ensure that's true.