Not Quite Lillard Time
Damian Lillard made it really simple.
No playoffs – no play.
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard said he will only consider playing out the season if the Blazers have a legitimate path to the postseason.
"If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team. But I'm not going to be participating. I'm telling you that right now. And you can put that in there."
Lillard's statement comes on the heels of speculation that the NBA – which has been suspended since March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – could decide to forgo the rest of the regular season upon its return and go straight to a 16-team playoff format.
Based on recent history, Lillard in the playoffs is a good thing for all NBA fans.
A year ago, Lillard delivered one of the most breathtaking moments in NBA playoff history, hitting a walk-off series clinching buzzer-beater to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
And just a few years prior, in the first round of the 2014 Western Conference playoffs, Lillard hit another series clinching buzzer-beater in Game 6 against the Houston Rockets.
Despite his playoff heroics, Lillard has had uneven results when it comes to the postseason.
Dame's overall playoff record is 19-32 and his teams have been swept three times in the postseason. However, last season, he reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time in his six career playoff appearances with Portland.
Still, it appears Lillard is ready to sit out the rest of the season if he isn't going to have a chance to recreate some of the magic from years past in this postseason, and ESPN's Max Kellerman believes Lillard's stance is, in fact, justified.
"I think it is smart, competitive, and justified. The threshold for games where the local tv money kicks in is 70, the Portland Trail Blazers have played 67 games, they're 3.5 games back. They are supposed to be 3.5 games back with 15 games to play, but instead they are 3.5 games back with three games to play. No playoffs. I believe that is what he is worried about and he's right."
Former NBA center Kendrick Perkins stood firmly in Lillard's corner when discussing his comments on The Jump, saying that not only should Lillard skip games, but all teams should skip games if they don't have a chance to make it to the postseason.
"I don't blame Dame. I'm with Dame Dolla on this one. When you think about Dame, he's been a winner ever since he stepped foot into the NBA. This guy is an 8-year veteran and the only thing on his mind is winning and he doesn't want to play meaningless games. And this is why I believe the only teams that need to go and finish off this season are the playoff teams, the 16 teams. Everyone else should stay home."
It's a tough spot that not only Lillard and the Blazers find themselves in, but a handful of other teams as well.
However, Marcellus Wiley believes that even if the Blazers don't have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, the only way Lillard can truly be a team player is to suit up and play with the team.
"He's saying two different things that are actually conflicting right here. On one account, he's saying, 'I'm going to the bubble because I'm apart of this team,' but then he's also saying, 'I ain't playing because the games won't count if we are going to be the ninth seed and not get in.' His rookie year they had 82 games, and his team only won 33 of them and they were out of the playoffs. Guess who played in every single game? Dame Dolla. So were they meaningful then? You can't play the risk card because you already said you were going to the bubble, but you just don't want to play. So which one is it?"
Until the NBA's final plan to return to play is released, all speculation is just that – speculation.
But Lillard has planted his flag in the sand and doesn't appear to be wavering in his stance.
The NBA is on the clock.