When the Portland Trail Blazers selected point guard Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite with the No. 3 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, one question immediately popped into the minds of everyone around the NBA: What happens now with Damian Lillard?
Dame has been at the center of trade speculation since Portland landed the third pick in May’s draft lottery, but talk surrounding the Blazers’ franchise superstar making an exit from Rip City has intensified ten-fold in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Scoot is a 6-foot-2, ball-dominant point guard. Lillard has been a 6-foot-2 ball-dominant point guard in Portland for 11 seasons. The Trail Blazers also have Anfernee Simons, a 6-3 combo guard who’s at his best when he’s creating his own shot (with the ball in his hands) and Shaedon Sharpe, who could be bumped to the wing but profiles best as a two-guard.
So what happens now with a mega-crowded backcourt?
Damian Lillard’s future in Portland is up in the air for now
Lillard has resisted the go-to superstar move of the past decade-plus: If your team isn’t winning, demand a trade and try to win a championship. He’s said on multiple occasions – including in an interview with Michael Scotto of HoopsHype the day before the draft – that he’s not that kind of star:
"I try not to be a part of the player empowerment because we’ve seen enough situations where guys who were at their peak and at the top of their game had that power and influence, and when they weren’t at that level anymore or the back end, people remember that…A championship would mean a lot to me, but in my personal opinion, if I don’t win it, it’s not the end all, be all to me."
Dame has shown an unflinching loyalty to Portland. It’s where he’s grown up as an NBA player and where he’s laid his roots down as a person.
Is there a possibility now that Lillard, whether the idea originates from him or from the Blazers front office, moves into a new era of his career somewhere else?
He would fetch a haul in return, for certain, and that would allow Portland to rebuild with young, superstar-caliber talent. But is there still a chance a young Trail Blazers team can make a playoff push with Dame leading the charge? The answer is a resounding “yes.”
There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Simons’ future is in far more doubt that Lillard’s after the Scoot selection.
As of draft night, there have been no real rumors leaked about any potential trade involving Lillard. There’s a reasonable chance he doesn’t go anywhere, and I don’t expect him to go anywhere. General manager Joe Cronin picked Henderson at No. 3 and he’ll figure out what the next move is, but I’m willing to bet trading Dame is not that move.
As he said, if he doesn’t win a championship, “it’s not the end all, be all.” Lillard is a different kind of superstar with different priorities. He’s not a ring-chaser.
No, he does not want to play with a group of young players and would prefer the Blazers acquire a few veterans to fill some of their most significant needs. That has been well documented. Does that mean he’s going to walk into Cronin’s office and ask out? I don’t believe so.
I believe Damian Lillard and Scoot Henderson will both be wearing Portland Trail Blazers jerseys on opening night of the 2023-24 season.
But, then again, surprises are just around the corner in the NBA.