Keep Portland absurd
Paying Damian Lillard to play basketball five years from now is the least of the Blazers' worries.
Good morning. Let’s basketball.
Smokers in an Interior, David Teniers The Younger, 1637
A whole line of shoes (Nike boots, natch) have been edging ever closer to the edge of a shelf in Portland since the end of last season, and one by one the shoes are falling. I’m going to go ahead and end this metaphor prematurely, but you get the drift.
The Blazers failed again last season, getting booted in the first round by a Nuggets team missing Jamal Murray and Will Barton. Longtime GM Neil Olshey combatively blamed longtime coach Terry Stotts for the team’s shoddy defense, and then sacked him. Star player Damian Lillard flirted with finally expressing some dissatisfaction with his situation, but swung back to loyalty and appeared to endorse Jason Kidd for the coaching job; Kidd demurred and Olshey focused in on Chauncey Billups instead. Olshey and Blazers PR completely botched its response to questions about a prior Billups rape charge, with Olshey coming off particularly poorly in trying to shut down a valid conversation by the media and fans.
Olshey made one roster move of note, adding Larry Nance Jr. for Derrick Jones Jr. and a pick. This was a virtual reiteration of his belief that the roster was already a contender, it just needed the right sideline maestro.
Allegations of a toxic work environment were levied against Olshey, seemingly believable to those closest to the team. The Blazers struggled. Billups seemed to be flustered by the roster’s deficiencies, and said so. Olshey got sacked for cause, though the team won’t say anything more about what their investigation into his work environment found. The Blazers sit under .500, at a couple different crossroads. Make that a cloverleaf freeway interchange where three major roads come together, all of them potentially leading to a dark, dark night.
Lillard wants a two-year, $107 million extension in July, and he and his agent need the next general manager to sell ownership on the idea. As much as anything, this cuts to the core of the Blazers' search process. His desire for an extension into his advanced NBA years has turned into a battle for the franchise's future, an existential threat to reshaping and redirecting the organization in a post-playoff reality.
The prospects of Portland extending Lillard, 31, beyond his $48.8 million in 2024-25 to pay him $51 million at 35 years old and $55 million at 36 threatens to turn an asset of a contract into an albatross.
Let’s put a toothpick through the nastiest little miniature gherkin we can find and put it on top of that crap sandwich.
Among several top-level GM candidates who fit the profile of Portland's applicant pool, there's no enthusiasm to grant Lillard his massive extension contract through the 2026-27 season. In fact, several executives told ESPN they would be far more interested in the Blazers job with ownership's blessing to move Lillard sooner than later.
This is widely and probably correctly seen as Olshey’s revenge: the deposed GM lighting up a stick of loose dynamite on his way out just to do a bit more damage. (Just full of the bad metaphors this morning, aren’t we?) I’m not getting into the media politics or speculation about which main characters are closest with which reporters and why. That’s boring and unproductive. I will say that Dame low-key generates a lot of this type of speculation compared to his peers, and it might have to do with the fact that his agency (the Goodwin brothers) doesn’t participate in the media economy in the same way as some others.
But let’s put all that aside and address the substance here.
If Damian Lillard wants an extension this summer to cover the 2025-26 and 2026-27 seasons, and assuming he gets healthy soon and has another All-NBA or All-NBA candidate level season, the Blazers should absolutely fork it over under the principle that it’s really hard to get superstar players and you should generally try to keep them under contract as long as possible.
It would take catastrophic injuries or a complete NBA paradigm shift for Damian Lillard to be an albatross contract in the forseeable future.
Any GM who says they would rather have a Blazers roster with a Lillard whose contract expires in 2025 vs. 2027 or worse, wants to trade Lillard now thinks very highly of themselves and as such probably should not be trusted.
The idea that Lillard’s salary in the year 2027 is more likely to be an “existential threat” to the franchise’s near-term future than a pissed-off Lillard demanding a trade in the next seven months is laughable and ludicrous.
Chris Paul is 36. Steph Curry will turn 34 before the end of this season. Kyle Lowry will turn 35. LeBron James (not a point guard, but still relevant) is almost 37. This is all to say that the words “Damian Lillard at age 36” is not as scary as you are making them out to be.
If I’m Jody Allen — I am not Jody Allen, and frankly I have no insight into Jody Allen’s priorities or mindset — I am asking a single question in the interviews for a new GM: “Damian Lillard wants a two-year extension this summer, your thoughts?” Anyone who doesn’t say yes immediately gets hit with this:
Perhaps this is overstating the impact of superstar players. Perhaps this is too much confidence in Lillard specifically given his clear defensive limitations. But the Blazers haven’t really tried anything other than pairing him with LaMarcus Aldridge for a couple years and then teaming him up with C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic for a few years. Try literally anything else before you decide that Lillard is the issue and that the path to success involves alienating or trading him.
This all feels like Neil Olshey trying to MF the Blazers and Lillard on his way out, which seems particularly gross since to our knowledge Lillard has been unendingly loyal to the Blazers franchise and no players agreed to speak to investigators (something I find disheartening, though maybe Olshey thought they would defend him). It’s all gross, it’s all absurd and for the sake of those who remain, I hope the Blazers ignore it and let Olshey go scream at a tree or something. His opinion on these matters thankfully no longer matters.
Nets 102, Mavericks 99 — Big comeback for Brooklyn, James Harden toying with Luka Doncic in the clutch. I just love that Luka let him get to his left hand attacking the rim and gets mad about no help coming. That was not good defense at the point of attack, my man. There should have been help, too. But this is a total team breakdown. Don’t let Harden get to his left!
Knicks 121, Spurs 109 — R.J. Barrett with a breakout game.
So what’s been going on with him of late?
Lakers over Celtics? Take it away, James Worthy.
Just wonderful content.
26 teams in action. All times Eastern.
Sixers at Hornets, 7
Bulls at Cavaliers, 7
Wizards at Pistons, 7
Knicks at Pacers, 7
Bucks at Heat, 7:30, ESPN
Thunder at Raptors, 7:30
Nets at Rockets, 8
Mavericks at Grizzlies, 8
Jazz at Timberwolves, 8
Nuggets at Pelicans, 8
Blazers at Warriors, 10, ESPN
Magic at Kings, 10
Celtics at Clippers, 10:30
Luka Doncic admits he again came into camp out of shape after taking three weeks off following Slovenia’s Olympic run. I actually feel for the guy if three weeks of rest can have that quick an impact on his body. It’s going to be exhausting for him to stay in shape over the next 15 years unless he finds a new nutrition program or offseason regimen.
Speaking of which, Jonathan Tjarks on what Indiana has with Myles Turner.
Via Friend of GMIB Andy, a really good hoops jape from The Onion.
A couple of stats-y items, timely as I’m finishing up Seth Partnow’s The Midrange Theory. (Review coming soon.) First, Kirk Goldsberry on ESPN Insider on Kevin Durant’s one-man two-pointer renaissance. ($) Second, Zach Kram on the end of shot location quality being an edge.
Markieff Morris has still not played since the Nuggets game. Just going to keep noting that until he’s back on the court.
And finally: the greatest analyst of all time spitting harsh truths you may not want to hear.
Be excellent to each other.