The Blazers are 31-40 and are 4.5 games from the No. 10 seed in the NBA Western Conference, giving management reason to shut down All-Star Damian Lillard.
The 31-40 Portland Trail Blazers are the No. 13 seed in the NBA Western Conference, having lost eight of their last 10 games, and potentially a fighting chance at the tournament. In the midst of a disappointing campaign, rumors circulated that the franchise might shut down Damian Lillard for the remainder of the regular season.
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith that he is holding his tongue, and Speak frankly In ‘First Take’ about Lillard’s potential closure as well as his being so annoyed with Lillard’s loyalty to the franchise:
A lot can be gleaned from an audio clip of Smith, but none better than his saying, “They [Portland] I just don’t have it.” Smith is right. The Trail Blazers don’t have a championship-caliber roster.
The numbers show that the Blazers are an above-average team on offense and a secondary team on defense. But the eye test screamed about careless overturning, the failure to intercept all three pointers consistently, poor edge protection and even poor perimeter defense.
Granted, mistimed injuries robbed Portland of making it to the Final Round over the course of the regular season, but they didn’t look like a team that could seriously exit the playoffs for months, even at full strength. It might be wise to close Lillard.
The 32-year-old has struggled with nagging handicaps throughout the year – mainly a calf injury that has caused him to miss 12 of Portland’s first 23 games. Playing Lillard opens the door to re-aggravation or worse.
Smith also said that “the Portland Trail Blazers are not the place to be.” Lillard has consistently declared his unwavering loyalty to the city of Portland and the Blazers organization. His departure for greener pastures is highly unlikely, as he doubled down on those sentiments in his recent appearance on JJ Redick’s “Old Man and the Three” podcast.
Blazers management should feel compelled to pay back loyalty to Lillard by building a competitive All-Star team for 2023. Acquiring Jerami Grant was the first step. Above all, they must repurpose the center position and bring in taller, more versatile senior defensive linemen in the off-season. A top perimeter defender is needed with height at the starting core, and the pass point guard will put in first to ease Dame the finishing touches on a serious contender.
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