When Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard underwent abdominal surgery on Jan. 13, the team said he would be re-evaluated in 6-8 weeks, and while that timeline hasn't changed, Lillard recently said he's in "no rush" to get back to the court.
While talking to media Saturday, Lillard spoke about his current status after having surgery, and his outlook for the rest of the season. When asked about what the Blazers' plan is for the rest of the season, in terms of pushing for a playoff spot or opting to get a higher draft pick this summer, Lillard said he hasn't had those conversations with the front office yet.
"We haven't gone that far. I'm just a week from surgery and we said we will re-evaluate my situation weeks out — 6-to-8 weeks — and we will talk about it then," Lillard said. "But I'm not in a rush. My number one goal is to win a championship and like I said, I have to be in the best form of myself to make that happen. And to be a part of that. So I'm not in a rush. We will talk about whatever that timeline is when we get to that point."
However, when asked if the Blazers took the route of playing for a higher draft pick, Lillard was clear that it wouldn't make sense for him to play this season if that was the goal.
"I mean, if we are going to play for a draft pick, it wouldn't make sense for me … because I'm not going to play for no draft pick," Lillard said. "I'm just not capable of that. So it would be best if that was what we were doing, or what was decided, then it wouldn't make sense for me to play."
That quote might be met with outrage as some may think that Lillard should play if he's healthy after rehabbing from his surgery, but he's not wrong. It's unclear right now what Portland's plan is for the rest of the season, given they sit at the No. 10 spot in the Western Conference, which would grant them a slot in the play-in tournament to battle for the last two playoff spots this season. If Lillard were able to return for the play-in tournament and help grab one of the last two postseason spots, his penchant for showing out in important games would make the Blazers a tough draw regardless of where they're seeded.
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But it sounds like right now, Lillard is just taking it one day at a time.
"Like I said, I'm not in a rush. The day after the surgery, I was doing yoga. I was doing therapy the next morning," Lillard said. "Like after surgery, I literally walked out of the hospital. I've been doing everything, obviously double time, everything I could possibly do I've been doing it. I think probably in another three weeks I should be able to get on the court and start shooting, and doing some ballhandling stuff. They said it's an injury where the best thing to do is get active right away, so I've been active."
However, the opposing view on this matter is that fighting for a No. 8 seed and getting bounced in the first round isn't beneficial, especially for a Portland team that has already had several years of lackluster postseason success. Fighting for a higher draft pick that could be later traded to get Lillard more help for next season could be seen as the better route, and ultimately Portland may decide to do that. But tanking for a draft pick may not be something Lillard would be on board with given all the rumors that swirled over the summer of his growing impatience at the Blazers mediocrity over the years.
It just shows that even with Lillard sidelined, the Blazers still need to make the right decisions to keep him happy, including what to do with him when he returns healthy in a month or so from now. But for now, Portland will lean on CJ McCollum and emerging star Anfernee Simons, the latter of whom has blossomed in Lillard's absence. If the Blazers can climb up the standings, then getting Lillard back for a final playoff push would make the most sense. But if they continue to float near the bottom of the play-in standings it may not be worth bringing him back. We'll have to wait and see what route Portland ultimately decides to walk down as the season unfolds.