Dame Time On Down Time

Damian Lillard is the ultimate competitor. He’s not quitting.

Jim Rome
May 27, 2020 - 11:57 am
Damian Lillard

USA Today

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As the NBA continues to work towards restarting the season and figuring out what that season would look like, one of its superstars just fired a shot across the bow. You see, one of the issues for the league to figure out is what the season would look like. Are there regular season games and if so, how many? Just enough to get to 70 to fulfill regional television deals or more than that?

Or do they go right into the playoffs? Or is there a play-in tournament to figure out the final few playoff spots?

Well, Damian Lillard made it very clear how he feels about coming back for a limited number of regular games. He told Chris Haynes that "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."

That is a take. That’s a take and a half.

And for context, Portland is 3 ½ games behind Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West. Lillard is saying that if the Blazers come back for a limited number of regular season games without a legit chance to get into the playoffs, he’s not playing.

And if there are no regular season games at all and the league goes straight to the playoffs, Lillard will be pissed.

"Right now, I'm just in a space where I want to come back and play. And if we start playing, I’ll be ready to play. But if the league says it's only taking playoff teams, then I'm off to a head start in my summer training. I'll be pissed off because I feel like they basically stopped the season and went straight into the playoffs. We're chasing the team with the toughest schedule in the league and we're in ninth place. That would be weak, but it is what it is."

If there are no regular season games, Lillard will be pissed. If there are regular season games, but not enough to make the playoffs, he’ll take a seat.

"If we come back and I don't have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I’ll be at practice and I’ll be with my team. I'm going to do all that and then I'm going to be sitting right on that bench during the games.”

I get it. If it’s just a handful of regular season games and you can’t actually get into the playoffs, then what is the point? You’re not playing for the fans, because the fans won’t be there. And what if he gets hurt in games that don’t matter?

But don’t get this twisted. He’s not going to be skipping town. He’ll be there. He’ll practice with the team. He’ll support the team. But he’ll sit on the bench during games. And I get it, because there wouldn’t be anything to play for. They’d essentially be exhibition games.

But if there’s something on the line, he’s in: "If they come back and say it's something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we're playing for playoff spots, then I think that's perfect”

That’s the thing. Damian Lillard is the ultimate competitor. He’s not quitting. He’s not looking for a way out.

He’s not trying to get OUT of anything, he’s trying to get INTO the playoffs. Give him a chance at the playoffs, and he will be fired up and ready to go. And he believes that the Blazers will make some noise.

They played most of the season without their starting center and power forward, but the expectation is both Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins would be back. And that gets Lillard juiced because while Nurk and Collins might be rusty, the whole league will be rusty. And he thinks some teams are going to be vulnerable because their mindset will be off. 

"I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone. It's going to be hard to get going with no fans, you've been off all this time and some people are just ready for summer like, ‘I haven't played in a long time and the season is basically over to me. Do I really care like I cared before?' It's going to be a lot of those factors going on and that presents a lot of room for a team to [overperform]. Like, really mess around and knock some teams off and then, 'Oh, they're in the Western Conference finals.' It's room for that with this situation.”

I love that. He’s seeing this like an opportunity. There will be teams that are already in summer mode and Lillard believes that Portland can capitalize on that, really mess around, and then they’re in the Western Conference Finals.

And one more quote from Lillard: “So the fact that it's possible and we wouldn't get an opportunity at that, that's weak to me. I ain't getting no younger."

That doesn’t sound like a guy who’s quitting or looking for a way out. That’s a guy who wants games that mean something. He wants games with stakes. Big stakes, because he knows Portland can handle those stakes. He knows he was made for the playoffs and for moments like this.

He wants a chance to have that moment. And given how he’s shown up in that moment, I want that chance for him too. I want it for all of us. Because I want to see something like that again. Hell, I want to see it again right now. Alvin, run that back again.

Damn I miss moments like that and can't wait to see them back again. But we’re not going to get to see them, if they’re not at least given the opportunity: and if he doesn’t’ at least get the opportunity, dame’s not playing. And I don’t blame him. And he’s right, he’ aint getting no younger. None of us are.