There oozes a certain ironic happiness when news came Damian Lillard, 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year and 2014 all-star, did not make the USA Basketball team heading to Spain this summer in an attempt to win the FIBA World Cup of basketball. This might be just the lightening in a bottle Blazers fans were secretly hoping for in an attempt to motivate Lillard going into his third NBA season.
The Oregonian‘s John Canzano elucidated as much yesterday, when he wrote that Lillard’s turn in the final cuts for the team would be just the elixir he’d need to come into the 2014-15 season with yet another chip on his shoulder:
Some athletes are motivated by money, marketing and exposure. Some are driven by legacy. But anyone who has followed Lillard’s story from Oakland to Weber State to the NBA All-Star team knows that he is a man driven by proving himself.
I think Lillard needs to elevate his game, especially on defense. He’s a sensational offensive player, with great vision and feel that you just can’t teach. He’s quick, he has an excellent shot, and he possesses outstanding instinct. But I’m most fascinated by his work ethic, and the fact that he appears most motivated when he’s doubted.
Canzano even mentions Lillard’s college coach at Weber State, Randy Rahe, who said of his former star, “I’ve never been around anyone as driven to prove himself.”
Lillard did just that at Weber State under Rahe, where he played four years after failing to receive much attention from larger programs while tearing things up as an Oakland high school player. Then came the NBA Draft, where he set out to prove his naysayers wrong again, capturing the 2013 Rookie of the Year award. For those who said it was a fluke, he helped lead the Blazers to the playoffs last year while earning his first all-star nomination.
His now-iconic shot to end Houston’s brief blip on the NBA playoff radar, shows his bonafides yet again, but getting cut from Team USA is just the next obstacle he’ll meet head on.
After graciously bowing out following his ouster from the men’s national team…
Back in my natural habitat! Throw more wood on the fire . Thankful for the opportunity And guys please don't feel sorry. I'm always Good!
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) August 23, 2014
Dame was right back up, promoting his NBA Live 2015 cover and getting ready for next season. But getting passed over for peers Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving has to be in the back of Lillard’s mind. It’s just the thing he needs to come out with more ammo next season.
Blazers fans should rejoice, their perpetually hard knocks superstar has received word he’s not good enough, and that’s exactly what will provide the extra onus to improve next season.
If we asked Lillard whether his exclusion from Team USA was a motivating factor next season, we’d guess he’d downplay that angle as much as possible in his low-key manner. He isn’t the type of player to talk about how keyed up he might be. He’s as mild-mannered off the court as he is on, but don’t let that lull anyone into the belief this USA Basketball experience doesn’t sting just a little. That sting should make Blazers opponents quake, too, because — while he might not admit it — it’s just this type of circumstance that can spur him to even greater heights.
Does Dame come out reinvigorated after getting cut?
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