Stop me if you've heard this before: despite the valiant efforts of Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers were eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs. It's a story we've heard a lot over the last half-decade; the Blazers have dropped out in the opening round of the postseason four times in the last five years. Something had to change after this year's debacle. Which brings us to last night, when news broke that the organization would be parting ways with Terry Stotts after nine years.
The Blazers will now move forward and try to retool around their superstar point guard. To call this offseason crucial is a stunning understatement. Portland needs to nail this new hiring and figure out a way to raise the team's ceiling with very limited cap room to work with. Fortunately, they have slightly less pressure than other teams in that position because Lillard has been adamant that he does not want to leave the Blazers. He has taken every opportunity possible to remind people of that. He won't ask for a trade if things don't work out next year.
We can already tell that's true because Lillard is taking charge through the media by letting the team know precisely who he wants as a new head coach. In two separate interviews with The Athletic and Yahoo! Sports, Lillard gave two names: Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups. From The Athletic this morning:
Up next will be a new coach, and Lillard said it would be “ideal” if Stotts’ replacement has experience.
“I like J. Kidd and Chauncey,” Lillard said, referring to Lakers assistant Jason Kidd and Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups.
A source close to Lillard says he prefers Kidd because of his previous head coaching experience in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, and his background as an Oakland point guard. But Portland’s management is intrigued by Billups, the former point guard who was an NBA Finals MVP with Detroit. It is believed the Trail Blazers will ultimately decide between Kidd and Billups.
And then from Yahoo! last night:
Damian Lillard’s top preference to become the next head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers is Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd.
“Jason Kidd is the guy I want,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports on Friday night.
Lillard intends to have significant input on the next hire, sources said.
This is not a common occurence. Usually superstars let their preferences known to management, and then leaks to the media tell the world what they said. Lillard is skipping that middle stage and attaching his name to these quotes with no qualms about it at all. That not only indicates the kind of influence Lillard knows he has within the organization, but also that he's in it for the long run. Throwing his full weight as a star in a small market into the head coach search means he isn't going to bail if things don't work out as planned. Lillard is essentially the decision-maker here.
Not that this is any surprise. Lillard wants a ring but he wants to be a one-team guy just as much. That does not, however, mean we won't hear his name in trade rumors this offseason. They already started, in fact. In that same piece from The Athletic, Shams Charania and Jason Quick mention that several franchises around the league are watching the Lillard-Blazers relationship like hawks.
Sources say several NBA teams — including those in the top markets — are already intensely monitoring this situation in Portland and how it develops to look for an opening to make trade offers.
Lillard doesn't want to get traded, and such a transaction would be extremely difficult to pull off anyway because next season will be the first of the All-NBA point guard's supermax extension. He's owed $176 million over the next four seasons, with a salary starting at $39 million in 2021-22 and rising quickly over the course of those four years. Cobbling together enough salary pieces to trade for Lillard is a difficult task right now, much less in a few years when he'll be making nearly $50 million.
The Blazers are rapidly approaching a crossroads in the future of their franchise. They can rest easy knowing that Lillard doesn't want out and won't be asking for a trade anytime soon. But we the people will be subject to trade rumors for a while yet.