Every amateur couples therapist I’ve ever encountered on the web or on Twitter threads talks about passive-aggressiveness as a relationship killer. This offseason, the Portland Blazers, and Damian Lillard seem to have conflicting goals. The Miami Heat’s interest in CP3 persists, but Portland has reportedly shut down all inquiries according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
On a night for the NBA’s young bucks, Lillard’s passive-aggressive signals are diverting attention away from the prospects the night is intended to be centered around. Draft night trades involving vets stealing the spotlight are a common phenomenon. It’s the ideal time for a franchise to hit the reset button on a failed operation.Ray Allen’s 2007 Draft day trade from Seattle to Boston laid the groundwork for Kevin Garnett’s landing.
Lillard has always been a low-key superstar. He needs to cut the humble schtick, though, and speak directly about what he wants. Instead, he speaks through code, then claims he was misinterpreted. The Blazers heard him casually mention the Heat as a hypothetical destination because of his affinity for Bam Adebayo. That he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuilding project. But he’s not grandstanding about it, because as we said, he’s going about it passive-aggressively. So Portland made their own trade offer to Miami for Bam Adebayo. Would it have been enough to turn them into a contender? No, but the Blazers thought it was the thought that counted.
Now that Zion Williamson is off the trade market and the Trail Blazers are intent on keeping their No.3 overall pick, it’s become clear that Lillard is destined to be stuck in purgatory for the remainder of his days as a Blazer.
Portland is just foolish enough to believe that they can pull off the two-track strategy that Golden State schemed with James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Jordan Poole, and Moses Moody. Portland doesn’t have a Death Lineup that can tow their dinghy roster to a title. Their most immediate offseason priority is whether to offer $150 million to Jerami Grant.
If the Blazers were entertaining overtures from teams offering win-now All-Stars, you could envision a scenario in which he stayed. That’s not coming to fruition. By the time the No. 3 pick and Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe are fully developed, Lillard will be cooked. And deep down, Lillard knows this.
Now 32, he can feel time creeping up on him. His play doesn’t show it. After 2023 began, Lillard was the NBA’s hottest scorer, and yet, that did nothing to prevent the Blazers from descending to the sticky bottom of the NBA standings. The Blazers were 16 games under .500. No rookie is going to alter that trajectory. If Scoot Henderson falls to Portland, their lineup will be rife with redundancies at guard. A three-guard lineup is a fun concept for a young team, but when none of them can plug in a gap defensively, it’s just a vanity project.
Meanwhile, Lillard has repeatedly kept the pressure on Portland to not stick him in as the odd man out in a youth movement with a young prospect, which is exactly what Portland’s only options appear to be unless general manager Joe Cronin has a miracle up his sleeve.
The longer they grip tightly onto a best-of-both-worlds scenario, the more likely it becomes that the Blazers, and Lillard both wind up losers. Despite his stellar individual play this year, Lillard will soon become a depreciating asset. If the Blazers plan to trade him, it had better be this season. And if they seek to maximize their return for Lillard, they’d better start doing so before he begins to demonstrate signs of slowing down.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex
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