Is Damian Lillard Drawing a Line in the Sand About the NBA's Return?
As the NBA continues to try and steam toward a potential return to the hardwood later this summer in Orlando, there are plenty of things being considered. There is talk of a potential expanded postseason field should the teams go straight to the playoffs. There have been talks about playing some regular season games, potentially getting to the 70 or 72-game mark. In addition, we’ve heard of a World Cup type concept where teams are assigned in groups. Basically, if you have an idea of how they could play out the rest of the season, someone either in the league or that is close to someone in it has thought of it already.
One of the big things revolves around the teams near the bottom of the playoff picture in each conference as teams try to figure out the best way for the season to restart for their interests. One thing we know for sure is that should the league restart its regular season, Damian Lillard may not be there.
In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Lillard said that if the league restarts their season and the Trail Blazers are out of the playoff picture with no real chance of qualifying for the postseason, he wouldn’t be taking the floor. During that interview, Lillard didn’t pull any punches about the situation: "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 [expletive] in there."
One can see Lillard’s point as there would be little return on investment in playing in games that have no bearing on the season for the Trail Blazers. Portland went into the pause ninth in the Western Conference, 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot. If teams were to only play a handful of games to reach that mark, it would be a steep uphill climb for Portland to make the postseason. In addition to that, the risk of an injury that could leave him out for part or all of the 2020-21 season.
Throw in the fact that the Trail Blazers have had some serious injury issues this season and it would make Lillard a bit concerned about a return. After all, Jusuf Nurkic hadn’t played in over a year after breaking his leg late in the 2018-19 regular season while Zach Collins has been out for an extended period with a shoulder injury. Rodney Hood tore his Achilles earlier this year and it’s anyone’s guess if any of that trio would take the floor when and if the season makes its return to the hardwood. Why would Lillard and fellow sniper CJ McCollum want to risk things for something with such a low rate of return on investment?
Lillard’s hopes were pinned on the concept where the teams seeded seventh through 12th would battle in some format for the last two playoff spots in a standard 16-team field. Whether something like that can come to fruition remains to be seen. The NHL has a format involving 24 teams where the top four teams in each conference earn a bye of sorts to the normal field while the fifth through 12th-seeded teams square off in what essentially constitutes a play-in round. Is this something that Adam Silver and the owners, along with Michelle Roberts and the NBPA, would go for at this stage? Lillard had this to say about the concept: "If they come back and say it's something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we're playing for playoff spots, then I think that's perfect."
Who knows? One thing we do know is that it could be detrimental for the league if they come back and some big stars sit out of the contests because of having nothing to play for. Lillard was fifth in the league in scoring with a 28.9-point per game average at the pause and clearly is the face of the Blazers. Could the NBA handle the negative optics of having stars choosing not to take part? Would Lillard be able to handle the backlash? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.