Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers saw their season come to an end in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year, this time getting bounced in six games by the Denver Nuggets. That Portland led by as many as 14 in Game 6 at home before seeing the Nuggets make a massive run in the second half to take control of the game only made the end result more painful, and the mood was unsurprisingly dark afterwards in the Portland locker room.
Lillard was brutally honest in his assessment of the team when asked if changes were needed in the offseason, saying that they “obviously” weren’t good enough having come up short against a Denver team down three of their best guards. That, coupled with Jusuf Nurkic saying that he didn’t feel that the situation in Portland, as it stands now, was “right” for him, led to a less than ideal evening for the Blazers faithful who know this is going to be a stressful offseason.
Adding to that stress was Dame’s postgame Instagram post, in which he has a tunnel walk photo and a pic of him congratulating Jokic after the game with a caption of a Nipsey Hussle lyric: “How long should I stay dedicated? How long til opportunity meet preparation?”
It isn’t hard to read into this as Lillard questioning whether his fiercely loyal dedication to Portland up to this point has been reciprocated appropriately by the organization in terms of putting a winner around him. There is going to be obvious pressure on the Blazers to retool this roster to maximize Lillard in the prime of his career, or risk him becoming further disgruntled by his situation.
For those who look at this as the precursor to a trade request this offseason, that seems highly unlikely given literally everything Lillard has ever done. Instead, this feels more like some not so subtle pressure being applied to the front office to get the job done this summer to build a more competitive roster around him, which might mean making some tough decisions on players who have been in Portland for some time. There is nothing NBA players love more than a good, cryptic social media post with a song lyric to get people riled up, and Lillard has certainly succeeded here. He’s also made it just unclear enough to give himself an out if he wants by saying he was just trying to motivate himself to keep working hard to better himself and his game on the court and it has nothing to do with the team — although, few would buy that reasoning.