Lillard On All-Star Selection: 'I Know That I Earned My Spot'
While Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard probably doesn’t have as many all-star appearances as he deserves, he had earned the honor twice in his career prior to making the 2018 Western Conference all-star team via coaches vote.
But in his previous all-star seasons, Lillard was surrounded by a veteran team including the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez, so one could argue that while he was still deserving of the honor, he wasn’t even the best player on his own team at the time and did not have the same kind of responsibilities that some of his all-star contemporaries had to deal with on a nightly basis.
But that is obviously no longer the case. The 6-3 point guard in his fifth season out of Weber State is Portland’s best player, which tends to draws the attention from opposing teams, and unquestioned leader both on the court and in the locker room. For that reason, Lillard said making the 2018 All-Star Game meant a little more this time around.
"I think this one is a little bit different because I'm on a different team, I'm in a different role on this team,” said Lillard. “So I kind of had to go get it. I had to wait my turn. The first one is also special. It's my first time there, but I'm also there with Kobe (Bryant) and Tim Duncan and all those guys. That was a pretty cool experience. This one is different, but they've all be special.”
Lillard’s status as the best player on and leader of the Trail Blazers might have given him a leg up on some of the players who missed out on making the 2018 All-Star team, but it’s only due to the play of his team that he was able to end a two-year all-star drought. Had the Trail Blazers not been in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, there’s little to no chance Lillard would have made the team over the likes of Paul George, Lou Williams, Chris Paul and Devin Booker, so he is reaping the benefits of being both a singular talent and part of a playoff team.
“I think for me, it just feels like I've had to earn this one for three years,” said Lillard. “I’m really appreciative of it. A lot of it is due to our team's success. If we had been at this point the last two years, I probably would have had two more, so I'm just honored to be a part of it.”
Which Lillard said is a feeling that won't go away just because some have questioned whether he should have made the team in the first place. It's not uncommon for players to take up for their teammates who they feel were slighted in one way or another -- in fact, a good teammate probably should -- but it is bit odd for a player like Russell Westbrook to imply publicly that a player, in this case Lillard, got in for reasons other than his output this season. But in his heart, Lillard knows he belongs, regardless of what Westbrook or anyone else might think.
"I respect Russ a lot, so it was kind of disappointing to see him say that because he's played against me, he's played against our team, he knows what I've accomplished, not just this year, but over my career," said Lillard. "So it was a little bit disappointing. But I know that I earned my spot this year. That's pretty much what it is. I earned my spot."