Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard believes Portland is on the path to becoming a championship team following the acquisition of Jerami Grant, the development of young talent such as Anfernee Simons, and his own eventual return to the lineup.
Lillard sat down with HoopsHype on Nov. 27 and discussed why he’s remained loyal to the Blazers and wants to win a championship for the franchise before retiring, Jerami Grant’s impact and the sales pitch to keep him long-term, and more.
What are expectations for this team?
Damian Lillard: I think we can be a championship team. We’ve got a good mix of veterans with experience and young talented guys. Right now in the league, that’s who you’re seeing are the most successful teams. It’s no longer look at this super team over here. It’s who’s got the talent, who can get up and down and score, who’s fearless, who defends, who has experience and leadership? It’s all of those things that give you a shot to be one of those final teams. You’re seeing it across the league, and I think we fall into that category.
We’ve got to be healthy. I’ve played a lot of games, but I’ve been in and out of the lineup with little nagging things with my calf. We haven’t gotten Gary Payton II out there yet. There are other layers to this team. We’ve got guys that are still getting up to speed. Nassir (Little) was out for a long time. He’s still trying to find his footing. I think once we put all of those things together and you can really see us, that’s when you’ll see that level up.
Why has Portland been where you’ve wanted to stay loyal to and pursue Clyde Drexler’s team scoring record?
DL: It’s always been a home for me. As an organization, a lot of guys I’ve played with that come from other teams say the biggest difference they notice is this is a great organization, the way that people get treated and how the organization operates day to day. To me, it’s a reminder the grass ain’t always greener on the other side. This has been my experience. I’d hate to be in another place and be like, “Dang, this is how you operate? Then, I’m stuck there.”
I’m also close to Oakland. A lot of my family can come to visit and be around all the time. A lot of my family has moved to Portland and established themselves there. I’ve been invested in the community. It’s home for me at this point. They haven’t won since 1977. I want to be a part of bringing that back. I really want to be a part of that. It would just wrap up everything for me. That would be everything. To have invested 11 years now, to be in the community and have my family there, and basically live my whole adult life here, and be a part of this organization. It would be everything to wrap it up and get it done.
Have you tried to pitch Jerami Grant on re-signing long-term as a guy who’s been loyal to the franchise?
DL: In this league, you’ve got to respect that guys have their own idea of what they want to do with their career and how they see themselves financially. I think the best way to sell anybody on anything as far as staying around is to win games, be authentic, and have genuine behavior. I know that’s what I do best. I mean what I say and say what I mean. I stay true to that because I’m never beside myself. Playing with myself and Anfernee, a lot of things have opened up for him and allowed him to really be effective. Then, the fact that we’re openly going to give him every opportunity to do it in terms of being unselfish. I don’t think there are a lot of guys out there in situations where it’ll be a hand-and-glove fit like it’s been, not just game-wise but personality-wise. We all get along and like each other. I care about his success, and he cares about ours. Sometimes, that’s the most important thing. That’s what our biggest pitch ever could be.
What has Jerami Grant brought to the Blazers this season?
DL: I think he’s added a layer to our team on both ends of the floor. A lot of times, he’s taking the toughest matchup defensively. He’s using his size, length, and athleticism to be disruptive and give guys like Anfernee and myself the opportunity to play off the ball and not wear ourselves out on the defensive end of the floor every possession and then have to go score and make plays as much as we do offensively. On offense, he’s been able to score in isolation, transition, hit catch-and-shoot threes, and post up. He’s doing so many different things for us on both ends of the floor. He’s so versatile that it’s added a layer to our team. It’s made us a much better team having him.
How have you tried to make the game easier for Grant?
DL: With me and Anfernee on the floor, we’re going to draw a lot of attention, and there are going to be opportunities for him. Teams are going to have to make a decision. He’s taken complete advantage of it. I think for me, as the point guard and somebody who’s been at the top of the game for a lot of years now, I know that I have to find ways to create opportunities for him and keep him in mind and make sure there’s a balance where he can be effective and comfortable by being used the right way. I’ve done it long enough to know how to be an effective version of myself, but I always try to keep in mind when was the last time he got a shot, who’s guarding him, and what’s the time and score. He’s only making that easier for me with how he’s playing.
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