Lillard Doesn't Know When Basketball Will Return, But When It Does, He's Got Some Ideas

by Casey Holdahl
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While he says his thoughts drift more often to the hardships endured by those struggling with the physical and financial effects of the COVID-19 outbreak than anything else, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is still doing what he can to stay ready in the event that the 2019-20 NBA season resumes.

He's got a home gym, so he's able to workout every day with no fear of exposure to the coronavirus. He runs in the morning, lifts weights and gets in a lot of core work in between taking walks with his fiancé and son, watching shows and movies on various streaming services and working on new tracks for an upcoming mixtape.

But with no practice nor games, Lillard, like many who either play or work in and/or around the NBA, feels a bit adrift as the shelter in place and social distancing policies continue for the immediate future.

"I feel like I wake up every day and I'm just kind of like, 'What should I be doing?'" said Lillard Tuesday afternoon. "I wake up like 'What should I be doing? What's the next thing? Should we be prepared to play?' So I'm just trying to like, stay on edge and ready to come back whenever they call us back."

Though he has no better idea of when that might be than the general public. In large part, that's due to the fact that it's difficult to ascertain when the pandemic will have run its course, making it all but impossible for the NBA to come up with anything more than contingencies for when it's safe enough to resume the season. And another reason is simply because Lillard isn't hounding his agent or the league office on a regular basis asking for updates. He figures when the time comes, someone at the NBA will reach out.

"I haven't heard anything," said Lillard. "I've honestly been sitting around, trying to stay active, doing stuff to try and stay in shape and sitting in the house and just waiting. I haven't been seeking out extra information and trying to figure out all that stuff. Like I said, it's more concerning to me the people who are out of work and trying to keep they heads above water. I think about that stuff. And the NBA stuff, when they let us know, they let us know. It's gonna be what it's gonna be."

But while Lillard doesn't have any sense of when basketball might resume, he does have some thoughts on how the NBA should go about finishing out the season.

"It's obviously going to be a different situation than it's ever been, so maybe they should do something that has never been done or something that's going to make this year very unique, like it already has been," said Lillard. "So I think they should do something like the NCAA Tournament with every team, single-game elimination all the way up until maybe the conference finals or something like that, then it's a three-game series so we don't got to start the season off track next year. They could get creative. If there was any time for them to get super creative and people will be tuned in and excited about it with everything that's going on, I think this is the time."

However, there's one drastic change that Lillard is unequivocally against: pushing out the start of the 2020-21 season in order to facilitate finishing out the 2019-20 season. Moving opening day of the NBA season from late October to late December in order to lessen the competition with the NFL for eyeballs has long been a topic of discussion in the league office, and some have floated the idea that having to push out the end of the 2019-20 season due to COVID-19 is an opportunity to test out that sea-change.

But Lillard is adamantly against permanent, wholesale changes to the schedule, especially those which would move the offseason from summer to fall. There's any number of reasons why such a change would be problematic -- the NBA season not generally matching up with the NCAA season would pose draft issues, it's very likely NBA players would no longer be able to compete in the Olympics or FIBA competitions and starting a season when most are preoccupied by the holidays being just three issues -- but for Lillard, the start of the NBA season coinciding with the team people start spending more time indoors is a combination that shouldn't be trifled with.

"I'm not a big fan of them pushing the start of (next) season back because then that pushes everything back. I really ain't a fan of that happening," said Lillard. "Our break is during the summer and then you come back as the summer is leaving, I think that's been perfect. I think it's been perfect for us, so for that to change and things to be pushed back, I'm definitely not a fan of that and I just don't see many guys being a fan of that."

Of course, it's possible that the 2019-20 season is simply lost to the pandemic. With shelter in place and social distancing lasting until May at the very earliest, it's very possible we get to a point where trying to restart play simply isn't feasible. Lillard, along with the rest of the NBA community, hopes that won't be the case, but he's confident that whatever decision is made, it will be made with the right priorities in mind.

"I'm definitely a little worried that (canceling the 2019-20 season) is a possibility but I'm encouraged because I know that the league is doing everything in their power to make sure that it does (come back)," said Lillard. "I know that if we don't come back that it will be for the right reasons, it'll be for the sake of all of our health and that's what's first. But I think that at some point we will be back and if not, I think it'll be a great reason for that."

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