Here’s Why You Actually Want Dame to Leave Portland

Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard made the news for stating he did not like what the NBA was becoming. As a fan, I agree. I don’t like how fans judge the NBA. I haven’t liked it for quite some time. Debates comparing players was once spirited, filled with stats, legendary moments and tales of clutch shots. Now it’s lazy. How many rings does Player X have? Oh Player Y has more? End of discussion. Should accomplishments be part of the debate? Of course. If you are able to parse through how much the individual contributed to the team’s success then that is fair game. That should be included with other individual accomplishments such as MVP, scoring titles, All-NBA and the like.

KD – The Price of Validation

Many players have made moves to satisfy fans’ wishes. Kevin Durant towards the end of his tenure in Oklahoma City being the face of this. Between the media and the NBA fan community, his move to Golden State was bashed. People were okay with the idea of not believing in OKC’s chances to win it all – especially after losing a series up 3-1. But to join the team that you lost that 3-1 lead to and a team that had seemingly been loaded enough already, felt like overkill. Taking the easy way out. What many may not have understood was how much Golden State needed Kevin Durant. Winning 2 in 3 years, which could’ve been a three-peat without the injury, to this day KD does not get the credit he probably deserves.

Feeling the pressure to win with ‘his own team’, he joins up with Kyrie in Brooklyn. They eventually get James Harden to join and well we all know how that ended up. Now he is in Phoenix, attempting to get this team over the proverbial hump. If they do win, sure he’ll get some love for getting them over but that bus driver tag won’t go away. KD has said lately that he doesn’t need validation from the NBA community regarding his career.

What would be today if others who left for “greener pastures” felt that way before they left their original teams?

Paul George – From Batman to Robin

Paul George was establishing himself as a star with the Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately, they – like the Toronto Raptors before Kawhi got there – kept running into LeBron and the Cavs. Frustrated with the Pacers’ lack of playoff success and probably difficult path of getting stars to join him in Indianapolis, George used the last year of his contract to leverage his way out.

Wanting to go back to his native Southern California, he instead ended up in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook. They ended up losing to the subject of this article in the playoffs. Now Paul George is second banana to Kawhi Leonard in LA. And no, we don’t really take them seriously as title contenders even with Kawhi playing more frequently and Russ joining the fray. If he does win, it won’t be in the same vein as what it would’ve been winning with the Pacers. Would he feel the same unfulfillment that KD expressed after winning in Golden State?

Russ – It Was All Good Just 5 Years Ago

And let’s look at Russ. He is a 9x All-Star, 9x All-NBA selection, 2x scoring champion, 3x assists leader, 2x All-Star MVP, and the MVP of the NBA in 2016-17 as the first guard to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson. After 10 years in Oklahoma City, it has been downhill since. And sure, as a fan of OKC’s rival the Portland Trail Blazers, I – among others – have been critical of Russ’ lack of adapting and developing a respectable jumper. But what his career has become since, 5 teams in the past 4 years, is a shame.

In the age of player empowerment, players seemingly have more say-so and authority than ever. But there is one thing they do not control in their careers that people have so wrong: winning a championship. Rings culture has diluted this, watered down how hard it is to win a championship. Yes, all players want to win. Who doesn’t? But controlling what you can control within your career is rewarded. It’s called the Hall of Fame. Having your jersey retired. All-Star and All-NBA selections. It’s called MVP. What happened to these criteria being the basis of comparison? Rings then being the tie-breaker between two superstars whose resume otherwise was neck and neck.

Fans, Is It ‘Oochie Wally’ or Is It ‘One Mic’?
Damian Lillard’s patented Dame Time celebration. Is it time’s up for Dame and Portland?
Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/NPR

All Damian Lillard has done is call out the disingenuousness of fans. More want him to leave Portland in order to criticize what they’ve seen from the guard for the past decade. A ring or even two rings, won’t put him past Steph Curry on anyone’s all-time list. And that is who he should be chasing of his contemporaries. If leaving won’t grant him that, or moving up any more spots on anyone’s greatest PG or combo guard list, then what does he truly stand to gain?

He’s seen Kevin Durant’s story, Paul George’s story, Russell Westbrook’s story. Is he really wrong for not seeing how his journey out would be too dissimilar to theirs? He could win like Kevin and not get the credit for doing so. He could get to where he wants like Paul George and have injuries and inconsistent play effect how far he could get. Or he could end up like Russ where he is suddenly thrust into a tornado and now everything he’s accomplished seems to be in question.

A Tale Of Caution A Little Closer To Home

But even more than those tales is one more directly experienced by Dame. His former teammate. LaMarcus Aldridge left Portland in 2015 and joined Coach Pop and the Spurs. An understandable decision for a number of reasons.

Yet, despite making 3 All-Star games and 4 playoff appearances in his 5 full seasons in San Antonio; nothing came out of it. A second round exit in 2016 to Oklahoma City and a sweep in the Finals in 2017 to Golden State. Then two first round exits in 2018 and 2019. It can be argued he leveraged his legacy to ring chase. Dame was three seasons in and two All-Star appearances into his career. The year Aldridge left, CJ went from bench player to starter, jumping from 6.8 points per game to 20.8.

What could have been if he stayed in Portland?

It’s Rosy in the Rose Garden
Could the best play for Damian Lillard’s legacy really be staying put?
Photo Credit: Hoops Hype

Imagine the tweets and Reddit comments if he leaves and doesn’t win: ‘He was never a winner anyway’. ‘He was actually the one ducking the grind, hiding behind Portland being terrible’.

Does he deserve criticism for staying put in Portland? Absolutely. That criticism sounds better than what’s been hurled at PG, Russ and KD.

The front office plays a larger role than most would like to admit. Golden State drafted well, but what would’ve been if not for Steph being underpaid coming off his early injury history? What would have been of the Bulls if Pippen’s contract actually paid him his worth?

It’s fair to look at Portland and doubt their ability to assist Dame. Although a sensible response to that is ‘leave’, would you say anyone – outside of KD going to Golden State – went to well-run franchises? If, outside of results, Dame feels he’s comfortable you want him to leave to join chaos? Ask LeBron about Buss and Pelinka. Ask KD and Ky about the Brooklyn brass. I promise it’s not as rosy as it seems.