Damian Lillard will reportedly sign a $191 million extension with the Blazers, who are on the brink of title contention
Portland needs one specific piece to push this thing over the top, and it has a few ways of going after it
Damian Lillard already has an argument as the best player in Portland Trail Blazers history, and it appears the franchise is prepared to compensate him as such. According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Lillard is expected to sign a four-year, $191 million supermax deal with Portland this offseason. From Haynes:
Lillard would officially qualify for the supermax if he's voted to one of the three All-NBA Teams, which is virtually a lock for the four-time All-Star.
Lillard has two years and approximately $62 million remaining on his current deal. The extension would put him under contract for the next six years, and he'd be 34 years old by the time the deal expires.
Haynes is right. Lillard, who averaged just under 26 points and seven assists this season, is a lock to make one of the three All-NBA teams. I'd guess he makes the second team. My guard vote would go like this:
- First team: James Harden, Stephen Curry
- Second team: Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving
- Third team: Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker
Either way, Dame is an All-NBA player, he's going to get paid a king's ransom, and he's worth every single penny. That's not to say there won't be some snide remarks about the manner in which Lillard finished up this postseason. After destroying the Thunder for five games and sending them home with , Lillard shot just 39 percent, including 31 percent from 3, over Portland's final two series against Denver and Golden State.
It's true, Lillard wasn't his normal self over those last 11 games, some of which can be attributed to his playing through separated ribs for much of that time. But it was also the way he was defended. After Oklahoma City pretty much laid down, laying off Lillard with bigs falling back into the paint and giving him virtually nothing but single coverage on the perimeter, Denver and Golden State almost never single covered him. They threw two, even three bodies at Lillard. They hedged, doubled, shaded and sprang trapping attacks out to 35 feet and beyond.
This is the new reality for Lillard and the Blazers. He's reached a point where it is no longer defensible to defend him with one guy, especially not in in the playoffs. It's one of the reasons Lillard remains a tier below Stephen Curry in the point guard hierarchy. Curry is better than Lillard at pretty much everything -- shooting, ball handling, passing, off-ball movement, even defense -- but what really accentuates the gap is that Curry, for the last six years, has been facing and beating the type of defense that still gives Lillard some problems.
So that's the next step for Lillard. Continue to study film and figure out ways to be not just productive, but dominant against any kind of defense. That's Steph Curry level. And Lillard isn't there. But neither is anyone else, and Lillard already made a huge jump from the way he was physically dominated in a first-round sweep against New Orleans in 2018 to what he was able to do this year in leading the Blazers to the Western Conference finals.
Pretty much nobody had Portland making it that far, and the fact that it did, beating the second-seeded Nuggets in a Game 7 despite Lillard not dominating, is proof that this team, as a whole, is a lot better than people ever thought. Terry Stotts can really coach. The tandem of Lillard and CJ McCollum clearly works, and this should shut down any talk of trading either one of them unless you are bringing back a top-tier superstar for McCollum, which is unlikely.
But the Blazers still need more to go from a great story to a legitimate championship threat. Getting Jusuf Nurkic back next season, whenever that happens and at whatever capacity he returns after such a catastrophic injury, is not enough. He is not what they're missing. Think about the way Curry is defended for the Warriors, and what a luxury it is for him to be able to give the ball up to an elite playmaking four-man in Draymond Green, who can capably exploit the short-handed defense that just took two guys out of view chasing Curry.
That's what the Blazers need. Beyond Lillard turning into an even deadlier version of the superhero he already is (which I believe he will do), a mobile, playmaking four who can be a release valve on those pick-and-roll double teams could be the championship piece to this Portland puzzle.
Now, good luck finding another Draymond Green. There's only one of him. Portland doesn't have the salary cap room to bring in a big-name free agent this summer, but next summer Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Moe Harkless -- who make a combined $42 million -- all come off the books. With Lillard signing on for six more seasons, they can be patient and plan their books accordingly and still make a splash move while Lillard is in his prime.
Or they can swing for the fences on the trade market.
Blake Grffiin, anyone?
It's probably a long shot given how well Griffin played this season and the delusion of the Pistons that they are somehow close to having a contending team, but Griffin would be a perfect fit on this Portland team. Not only is he another star who can score 25 a night and command double teams of his own, but just like Green, he can lead breaks as a pushing playmaker and, as discussed, be that release valve in the half court. Griffin has become a tremendous orchestrator of offense on the perimeter, even running pick-and-rolls as the initiator, so you know he would do damage as the outlet with Lillard.
Again, the deal, if Portland were to ever even consider such a move, is a long shot. All the Blazers would really have to offer, without putting McCollum in the package, is Zach Collins, possibly Nurkic, and a bunch of expiring contracts, maybe Turner and Harkless, for example. The Pistons wouldn't be doing it to get equal return in players. They'd be doing it to get Griffin's huge salary -- just under $110 million over the next three years -- off their books and free them up to start pretty fresh once Reggie Jackson comes off their sheet in 2020.
Portland, of course, would then have to be OK with saddling up with another bloated contract, which is what has held it back in adding to the Lillard-McCollum core these past few years, and perhaps that wouldn't be the wisest move with the Blazers' books coming pretty clean next summer. But this is all just a thought exercise, anyway. Griffin is the exact type of player they need, and whether it's actually him or someone else, that's the proverbial "missing piece" in Portland.
However it shakes out, the Blazers already have what very few teams in the league can actually claim: A true, face-of-the-franchise superstar. Lillard is that, no question. And locking him up for the next six years is a luxury the Blazers have been afforded. Now they have to figure out how to maximize that investment.
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