Well, the proverbial eagle has landed as of this week. The Portland Trailblazers traded all-star point guard Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s a huge move that takes the Bucks from being potential NBA title contenders to favorites. For the fans of the NBA, we have all wondered when this day would come. When would Lillard finally ask out? And once he did, where would he end up?
Reports led us to believe that Lillard wanted to end up in Miami as a member of the Heat. But judging by the details of this deal, it seemed as if Milwaukee had better assets to offer Portland. With hindsight now being 20/20, I happen to think this was a superior deal as well. In my opinion, Lillard finds himself on a roster with depth and transcendent talent in Giannis Antetokounmpo. What more could he really want?
Lillard has been in the NBA for 11 seasons with the same team that drafted him: the Portland Trailblazers. During his time there he experienced some playoff success, but also the rigors of rebuilds and injury-riddled seasons. Being that Portland also isn’t a free-agent destination, the organization’s hands do get stifled regarding the caliber of talent they’re able to bring in. That creates a situation where Lillard has to carry the weight of the squad. And Lillard did that, year in, and year out.
We’ve been in this era over the last decade or so where we place even more emphasis on the importance of a championship to a star’s career. So in addition to Lillard’s competitiveness, I’m sure there’s added pressure as it pertains to winning a championship. This past summer he pretty much stated that he wanted to be in a situation where his team was competing for a title. In the event that the Trailblazers weren’t, and only in that event, he’d entertain asking out of the team.
As it turned out, Portland was in a rebuild. With a young backcourt that now touts Anfernee Simons and rookie Scoot Henderson, the team has certainly decided to run with s younger crew. And with that, the Trailblazers agreed to find an ideal landing spot for Lillard. It isn’t often that these moves are made with little criticism. But in this case, this deal is celebrated due to Lillard’s undying loyalty to the city of Portland.
Very few superstar athletes remain on the teams that drafted them for the totality of their careers. In fact, our most recent examples of this are Dirk Nowitzki and the late great Kobe Bryant. They respectively played 20 seasons with the franchises that drafted them. Fans from my era of watching basketball lived through a laundry list of legends who didn’t win a ring because of Michael Jordan.
So needless to say, as we watch today’s stars ascend, we do so with this inherent awareness of what’s possible. Allen Iverson didn’t win the big one. Neither did Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. We’ve seen players that we herald miss out on championships in part due to their lack of mobility during their prime. Player mobility wasn’t truly encouraged until “The Decision” in 2010.
I think this event shifted the consciousness of the NBA. It was after this moment that players truly realized how to leverage their talent with the opportunity to win big. And it’s for that reason that I don’t find player mobility to be an indictment on one’s loyalty to their franchise. Lillard was loyal; he truly gave Portland all he could. In truth, the Trailblazers did the same. But as the saying goes, the game is the game. And in this upcoming NBA season, the game is Dame’s. It’s Dame time in Milwaukee!