In late June, Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported that the Trail Blazers' inability to put a championship contender around Damian Lillard combined with the backlash he received after Chauncey Billups was hired as the team's head coach following his public support could potentially lead to Lillard forcing his way out of Portland. Such requests are hardly uncommon in the modern NBA, and fans and media alike ran with the notion that one of the best players in basketball might become available this offseason.
But speaking at Team USA training camp on Thursday, Lillard reminded the basketball world that he has not spoken publicly about any of this. According to Lillard, if he has anything to say, he will say it himself.
"There's a lot of things being said and sometimes words being put in my mouth and I haven't said anything. Should be all of the people who've covered me since I've been in the NBA, they know that if there's something to be said, or if I think something and have something to say I'm gonna say it and I'm gonna stand on it. Like I said, there's been a lot of talk. Nobody's heard what I've said, or nobody's heard me say any of these things, but anything that I have to say, I'm gonna say it directly to Neil, I'm gonna address it directly with my team. I don't really have nothing to say to you guys about it, everything that I need to say and that I feel has been said to Neil, so there's really nothing else that I have to say about it."
It should be noted that Lillard did not directly refute Haynes' reporting. He merely said that he has not spoken on the subject, suggesting that if a trade request does come, it will come directly from him and not through the media. Haynes did not report that Lillard had asked for a trade, only that doing so was a possibility. The Blazers have lost in the first round in four of the past five postseasons. They fired head coach Terry Stotts as a result, and Lillard named two candidates he would like as possible replacements in an interview with The Athletic's Shams Charania: Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups.
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Both candidates had troubling legal histories. Kidd pleaded guilty to spousal abuse in 2001 and Billups settled a rape case in 1997. The Blazers ultimately hired Billups, and fans in Portland criticized Lillard for supporting a candidate with such a history. On Thursday, Lillard claimed that he did not know about the 1997 case against Billups until after he supported his candidacy.
"When I said that I didn't know, I meant, right away when we let Terry go, I was asked about names that had been floated out there. And of the ones that had been floated out there, I said I like J-Kidd and I like Chauncey. And that time, I had no idea of any of it. When I did learn of it and the process continued, I never felt like it was my job or my duty to say 'do this' or 'don't do this.' I do my job, I improve my game and show up as the point guard of the team. In the past, I've never stepped on anybody's toes or demanded anything or told anybody what to do and it was no different in this situation. That's all I can really say. I've known Chauncey before and I never knew of that until this coaching process came into play. Our organization said they did a thorough investigation and went through everything, they went through the process of hiring a coach as they did, in a comfortable way. That's not my decision or my job to say 'This guy is hired' or 'This guy's not hired' or anything. This is what it is now. So here we are."
For the time being, Lillard remains a member of the Trail Blazers. There is no reason yet to believe that could change. But Portland's fans remain upset with the Billups hire, and barring any surprising roster moves, they will remain out of championship contention. Lillard hasn't yet said anything suggesting he wants a trade, but if Portland doesn't turn things around quickly, it might not be long until he considers doing so.