Damian Lillard is tired. You’d be too after years of hitting your head against the wall. Despite his heroics including a monumental Game 5 performance at Denver (he netted 55 in the losing effort), Lillard’s Trail Blazers again came up short, bowing out to the third-seeded Nuggets in six games. The All-Star point guard didn’t hold back in his post-game remarks Thursday night, voicing his frustration after getting bounced in the first round for the fourth time in five seasons.
“I don't know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously as is, it wasn't good enough. We came up short against a team without their starting point guard [Jamal Murray] and shooting guard [Will Barton],” expressed Lillard, who contributed 28 points on 8-of-20 shooting in Thursday’s 126-115 defeat. “Obviously, where we are isn't good enough to win a championship if it's not good enough to get out of a first-round series with two of their best three or four players not on the floor.”
Lillard didn’t stop there, fueling speculation about his future in Portland—the only team he’s ever played for—with a cryptic Instagram post late Thursday night.
Lillard, it should be noted, remains under contract through 2025, though if the NBA’s player empowerment era has taught us anything, it’s that if you make a big enough fuss, taking a flamethrower to morale and locker-room chemistry, it will usually force teams into action. Former NBA center-turned-ESPN-talking-head Kendrick Perkins feels Lillard has shown Portland enough loyalty and, after a decade of running into dead ends in the Western Conference, has earned the right to play for a winner.
In the past, Lillard has resisted the idea of joining a super team like the ones assembled in Brooklyn and Golden State, preferring to build his own Blazers empire. But after consecutive first-round exits, Lillard seems to have come to a realization that if the 30-year-old wants to win a title, he may have to leave Portland to do it. It would take a monster return package—one likely centered around multiple first-round picks—and a mountain of cap space (Lillard is owed an eye-popping $176 million over his next four seasons) to broker a deal of this blockbuster magnitude, but as evidenced by January’s James Harden trade, anything is possible in today’s star-driven NBA.