Soon-to-be former Portland Trail Blazer Damian Lillard is only the latest NBA star whose fan base will soon be torn between choosing the star or the team they love after each goes their separate way
The pending breakup between NBA All-Star Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers was as predictable as a Pacific Northwest rainfall.
It’s happenin’ y’all. Not if, but when.
And this, despite Lillard time and time again telling anyone within earshot that he was all-in on being a Blazer, the franchise that drafted him with the sixth overall pick in 2012. But there are two realities that Lillard and just about every pro athlete has to accept, sooner or later—Father Time is always going to win, and loyalty has to be recalibrated out of the formula for fandom.
Lillard and the Blazers are the latest NBA marriage that will eventually end with the “No, it’s not you, it’s me” mantra. But truthfully, this partnership should have ended long before now. Lillard was paid handsomely for his loyalty to a team that steadily became more
about rebuilding, than reloading a roster so that he could compete at the highest level.
The challenges Portland faces, when it comes to roster construction, are just as much about geography than anything else. Of course, Portland is never going to be a free agent nirvana. And only through being terrible can they get a high enough draft pick to add the kind of impact player that could allow Lillard to do what so many of his All-Star peers do regularly, which is to compete for a championship.
During last month’s NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers ended up with the No. 3 overall pick, which means they would have the potential to add a good player. But it certainly isn't going to be someone ready from day one to compete at the highest levels—a prerequisite this off season to keep Damien Lillard happy enough to avoid demanding a trade.
No matter how many times the Blazers put out the bat signal that the number three pick could be had for the right price, there were no serious takers. So Scoot Henderson is taken, and Lillard presumably sets the table to scoot out of town.
This will likely force Lillard to come with a publicly demanded trade request, showing the kind of loyalty that most players subscribe to these days. Now, there shouldn't be any shade thrown at Lillard for doing this. He’ll be 33 this month, and has only been to the conference finals once
in his 11 NBA seasons. Lillard is coming off one of his best seasons ever, but he knows Father Time is just lacing up the high tops and will be coming with a full court press to take him out, very soon.
His impending departure is a reminder for us all how loyalty has radically changed in a way to where it should have absolutely
nothing to do with fandom. The love for players now is completely devoid of the team they play for. Look at LeBron James. Cleveland. Miami. Los Angeles. All those cities have major love for him, because he came there and did what the great ones do—win a championship.
And that is where the fandom lies now.
It’s less about who you play for, but rather how you play to win. The reality of this transposed loyalty is a tough pill to swallow for players like
Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal—who spent his entire career with the Washington Wizards before pushing for a trade this summer that ultimately sent him to Phoenix, where he’ll be paired with the Suns 1-2 punch of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.
Of course, all of these players are on maximum-salary deals, so no one should shed a single tear for them having to move on and in most instances, move on to a better basketball environment to win. Fans are the real losers, knowing their support will at some point be divided
between the player they love and the team they support. And while Portland will eventually love the player taken with the No. 3 pick in last
month’s draft, Scoot Henderson, let’s be real people—he's not Damian Lillard, forcing the Trail Blazers to recalibrate their fandom. It's a reality
that’s becoming more and more commonplace in the NBA.