Trail Blazers: Should more bubble teams follow the Damian Lillard route in sitting out?

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

Damian Lillard told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that he wouldn’t participate if the NBA threw the Blazers out for meaningless games. Here’s why more teams could take that same route.

Earlier this morning, Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that if the Portland Trail Blazers don’t have a legitimate opportunity to make the 2020 NBA Playoffs, he doesn’t plan to play.

"“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that in there.”"

In Haynes’ piece, the consensus appeared to be that the NBA could simply play a 70-game season for television deals, and likely to get every team on a level playing field, as it relates to the Draft Lottery and its proceedings.

For reference, a 70-game season means just four games for the Blazers, who are 3½ games back of the No. 8 seed. That puts the margin of error at virtually nothing.

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Lillard said earlier that if the league ran a play in tournament for the No. 7 to No. 12 seeds — a fantastic idea given how some teams have had tougher schedules — he would be game.

It’s worth wondering: will other teams begin to follow that same trail? A four-game tune-up is basically the NBA conceding its chance to give other bubble teams a chance to make the postseason.

Think about it: in the Eastern Conference, the distance between the No. 8 seeded Orlando Magic and No. 9 seeded Washington Wizards is 5.5 games.

In the Western Conference, the Blazers, Kings, Pelicans and Spurs would all mathematically have a chance, but the “magic number” — the amount of wins by Memphis, or losses by anyone else — would be just one.

Just as noteworthy: the Grizzlies have the hardest remaining schedule in the NBA, and the Pelicans have the easiest, the result of a front-loaded slate to get Zion Williamson national television coverage. The Trail Blazers were among one of the bigger victims of it, too.

Does it make sense for other teams to run that unlikely risk of exposing themselves if they know they don’t have much of a chance to succeed anyways? Lillard already mentioned in that Haynes article that it wasn’t worth running the risk of sneaking into a gym to work if it hadn’t been sanitized properly. Rip City Project’s Stevie Cozens alluded to some of those risks, too, even before the Blazers star made his thoughts public.

In this situation, it leaves only four teams league-wide with a Playoff spot to play for. For the other bottom ten teams, it makes little sense to show up, either, if this is what the NBA chooses to do.

Next. Trail Blazers: Who should Zach Collins study?. dark

Perhaps it’s just one of the many hypothetical potential outcomes to this season. But if we don’t get to see Damian Lillard in a Trail Blazer uniform on-court, might be able to credit him for being a trailblazer off the hardwood.