Lillard won’t play in resumed NBA season unless real chance at playoffs

Sports

No path to playoffs means no Dame Time

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, center, shoots as Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes, left, and forward Harry Giles III, right, defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Saturday, March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Damian Lillard will not be participating in a resumed NBA season unless the Portland Trail Blazers have a real chance at the playoffs, he announced on Tuesday.

In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Portland’s prime player said that if the NBA is just looking to resume the season with a few more games and no real path to the postseason for his team, he’s not interested. Lillard would still be there to support his team, but he does not plan on playing.

“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,” Lillard said to Yahoo Sports. “But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now.”

As the country moves cautiously toward recovery and reopening, the NBA is exploring seemingly every option to find a way to resume and finish the 2019-2020 season. But NBA stars like Damian Lillard remain skeptic — and protective — of their bodies and their teams, reserving their right to see what option the league picks before deciding whether they are going to return to play.

The Trail Blazer’s star guard said that he will continue to put in work and show up for his teammates, but ultimately will sit on the bench for the so-called meaningless games that would essentially just serve to fulfill television deals. However, if there is more at stake — Dame’s ready to suit up.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has long been exploring creative options to spice up the otherwise relatively mundane middle of an 82-game regular season. There was talk of a mid-season tournament that would have playoff implications, as well as a play-in tournament for the playoffs themselves in years past.

These ideas have been met with uncertainty. The desire to try new things has been there, but weaving that into a pre-existing mold posed challenges.

Now, the NBA and Silver have a clean slate, an opportunity to try any idea they want and see what sticks. Seemingly the only option they can’t afford is working so hard to bring players back, only to have the games not matter.

“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,” Lillard said. “It would suck not to get in the playoffs because our thing was, we had fought ourselves back into position to get a spot.”

That certainly is an option the league has reportedly sent to general managers in a survey as recently as Friday. That reported option is to cut the season to 70 games and continue with the playoffs as planned.

Before the coronavirus-induced break that began on March 11, Portland sat at 29-37 and ended up in the No. 9 spot in the Western Conference. That puts Rip City 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for that coveted final Western Conference playoff seed. 

NBA suspends regular season over coronavirus

It’s also important to note that the Blazers had two key players — center Jusuf Nurkic and power forward Zach Collins — poised to come back in March. Plus, with this extra rehab time, their potential returns could be even more promising for the team.

The latest talks over resuming the NBA season has the league anticipating games in late July, possibly at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Although there are multiple options being considered, nothing has been nailed down.

“I feel it’s only right that teams get a chance to make a playoff push, like ourselves,” Lillard told KOIN 6 in an earlier interview. “It’s obviously going to be a different situation than there’s ever been, so maybe they should do something that, you know, has never been done.”

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