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Earlier this offseason at summer league, Portland Trail Blazers star point guard Damian Lillard refuted a report that claimed he’s unhappy with the franchise and wants to be traded.
The Blazers were swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first-round of the 2018 playoffs and it was a struggle for Lillard, causing many to surmise Lillard was looking to leave Portland.
“I’m not unhappy,” Lillard said. “I love where I live. I love the organization. I love our coaching staff. I love where I am.”
Lillard, who had a stellar regular-season in which he scored 26.9 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from 3-point range, was shut down by Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday during the four-game sweep.
Holiday used his size and strength to make things difficult for Lillard, who averaged just 18.5 points versus the Pelicans and shot 35.2 percent overall and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Lillard has consistently said he wants to retire with the Blazers, but in a rugged Western Conference, Portland might never even get out of the first-round and big time free agents have never taken their talents to the Blazers.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, appearing on ESPN First Take, says even though Lillard loves the Blazers, the three-time All-Star wouldn’t mind a move to either the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks.
“Who’s coming to Portland as a free-agent on their own free will? What star do you know is going to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to roll with Portland and join my man Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in Portland,’ ” Smith said. “They are not trying to do that, which is why Damian Lillard, even though he loves Portland, wouldn’t mind being in LA, with even more so would not mind being in New York.”
Critics around the league believe the Blazers need to shake up the roster and either trade Lillard or McCollum. There’s no doubt both are prolific scorers, but the team has not advanced far in the playoffs with Lillard and McCollum as the main cogs and they tend to be defensive liabilities.
Lillard, however, doesn’t agree with the narrative that he and McCollum need to be split up.
“I don’t agree with it,” Lillard said during his exit interviews. “I think it’s that simple. I think it’s the easiest thing to say. I don’t agree with it, though. I’m not the guy making decisions. It’s a great organization. I think everyone has done a great job. Coach [Terry] Stotts has done a great job since Day 1. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight.”
Lillard signed a five-year extension with the Blazers in 2015 and can’t become a free-agent until 2021.