Summer league on July 6, 2022. Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers

Lillard Discusses Max Extension, Staying In Portland, His Relationship With Jody Allen And Ramping Up For Next Season

Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, flanked by general manager Joe Cronin and head coach Chauncey Billups, took questions from the media after signing a two-year contract extension reportedly worth upwards of $120 million Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas. Lillard discussed his appreciation for the team offering such a lucrative extension, that will keep him in Portland through the 2026-27 season, his thoughts on the recent trades and signings the team has executed, earning one of the largest contracts in NBA history, his relationship with the front office and coaching staff, the conversations he’s had with Jody Allen and how he thinks he might benefit from missing most of the 2021-22 season.

Damian Lillard: “First of all, I just want to say how thankful I am and how honored I am to be a part of such a great organization and just have people that believe in what I believe in. It’s a different era. Me being here 10 years, giving blood, sweat and tears to this city and this organization and having a different level of pride about it. I think my pride is wearing this uniform and doing something that a lot of people is crazy. I get a lot of people on the outside telling me what I should do, telling me everything that goes against what I believe and what I stand on. Just to have people that believe in that along with me and believe in me being able to accomplish what I want to accomplish, it means a lot. I think us extending this contract and coming to this deal shows that. Joe and I had a relationship prior to him becoming general manager, same with me and Chauncey. my belief is there in Joe and in Chauncey, I believe we want the same things for this city and this organization. Now that this is done and I’m coming off the longest break in my career, physically and mentally, having an injury and being able to be at home with my wife and kids, just be able to fill myself up with love and not have the burden and responsibility of just always trying to make it happen, always fighting through. I’ve been able to build myself back up into a place where I’m as anxious as I’ve ever been to just get out there and make something happen. I feel good about it. I don’t have too much to say about what’s to come or anything, I just know what i’m in a great space mentally and physically to where I know that I’m going to go into this season comfortable and ready to do me and do me at the highest level. I look forward to that.”

You’ve stated many times that you want to stay in Portland but that you also want to win. How much did the trade for Jerami Grant and the signing of Gary Payton Jr. play into your decision to sign an extension and do you feel comfortable that the team is on the right track?

Damian Lillard: "I do feel comfortable that we’re on the right track. Getting Jerami was huge. On the wing, you’ve got to be deep on the wing, you’ve got to have guys that are athletic, guys that are versatile. Jerami is a guy who was on winning teams in Denver, he was on a winning team in Oklahoma City. Going to Detroit and having a lot more responsibility than he had on any other team, I think that forced him to grow into a better player. So now coming back to us and filling a role that we needed, a guy that will be able to do that job better than what we’ve had, I think it automatically improves us as a team. Same thing with Lil’ G. Just a dog, tough, he just impacts the game, he changes the team. He’s coming off a championship with a team he had a lot of impact on, so us being able to get him was huge as well. I feel really good about that. I do want to win and we haven’t won big in the past. We win and I believe that’s the direction that we’re going in."

You’ve been incredibly confident throughout your career, but did you ever think that something like this was really possible from where you came from to this kind of legacy with the Trail Blazers, but this kind of investment from the team as well?

Damian Lillard: "I’ve never thought that far ahead. My trainer Phil used to always tell me if you do the works, results will come. It’s a lot of things that I’ve heard over the course of my career that I listened to but I didn’t fully take to heart. That was one of the things I really took to heart because, as I continued to just focus on doing the work, I continued to get results. After my first extension I didn’t look at the next one like ‘Oh, the next time, I’m gonna do this.’ It was like ‘Okay, I’ve got to prove it, I’v got to be true to what got me to this point and be even sharper.’ And I did that and then the next thing came. I’ve kind of carried that mentality from the beginning and it’s continued to produce the right types of results. This is no different. I think the only difference is, in my entire career, I haven’t been injured. I’ve had one injury that put me out and that was when I was in college and I broke my foot. That was the last time I got to step away. I didn’t recreate myself, I just charged back up. And I came back and I was better than I had ever been. That’s the position I’m in now, so the investment and commitment coming off a situation like that, I think that just speaks about the relationship that I have with this organization and the trust I’ve built with my actions throughout my career and the trust that I’ve built with who I am as a person.

You’ve been known as an ambassador not only for the Blazers, but the NBA as a whole. The amount of the contract, it’s a number we haven’t seen in sports history before. Do you feel satisfaction as someone who helped grow the league over the last decade, which has lead to opportunities for players to get this kinds of contacts?

Damian Lillard: "I feel proud to be that guy because I don’t think that you earn something like this just by going out there and scoring a bunch of points. Something that’s missing in our league is the character and the fight and the passion and pride about not just the name on the back but the name on the front and how you impact the people you come into contact with. I think because of how much I’ve embraced that -- and haven’t pretended to embrace it, that’s really who I am -- and I think this just shows the power in that. It shows that there’s something there for being committed and having your heart in the right place and having your mind in the right place. Hopefully it’ll have the impact going forward on players seeing that it don’t got to be ‘Oh, the media says this’ or ‘Everybody is telling me this’ and you just get swayed into doing what everybody is trying to convince you to do, because nobody is going to have to live with those decisions like you will. So I’m proud to be the person to jump out and this organization has shown this kind of trust and faith in me. But I’m even more proud of what a commitment like this from our organization represents. I hope that’s what will reach guys that will come behind this."

Damian Lillard Contract Extension Press Conference | Jul. 9, 2022

This new contract comes with a new regime in the front office. During this past season, what was your evaluation process of Joe Cronin, what he did, what he said. Same with Chauncey Billups. How did you determine that you wanted to stay in Portland with this group? What sold you?

Damian Lillard: “I think… regardless of that, I wanted to be here, so that was a good start. But just having those conversations. I would literally tell Chauncey ‘Are we trying to win? Just tell me.’ And he’d be like ‘That’s all I do is win, I’m a winner.’ And the same thing with Joe, and because, like I said, I had a prior relationship with Joe where I would sit in his office and we would sit there and talk about the board and stuff like that. The answers that I got, the responses that I got, I didn’t look at them like ‘Oh, he’s just telling me this.’ I was able to trust what I was hearing from Chauncey and Joe. And I think I got a good nose for when somebody blowing smoke or BSing me. I didn’t get that type of vibe and based on the relationships prior, I felt comfortable with it, I trusted it and it was pretty simple to move forward like that.”

You sign this extension, you’ve talked a lot about wanting to be in Portland. Looking back, was there every a point where you might have wavered on that? Did that ever cross your mind?

Damian Lillard: “I would say if there was ever a time, I would say last summer. I think it was last summer. And I wasn’t even saying ‘I want to go somewhere else’ or something like that, I was just like, I’m putting my best foot forward every time and I want a real chance to win. After losing to Denver -- they were a beat up team and we were pretty much full strength -- after losing that one I was just like, I was just frustrated with not having a chance and watching other teams win the championship. I go into a shell. After the team wins (the championship) and the parade is everywhere, I can’t handle my jealously and frustration when that happens. So at that point I was really frustrated and I wasn’t convinced like ‘I’m gonna go somewhere else.’ It was just like, we gotta put ourselves in a real position to have a chance. That was where I was at with it last summer. If I had to say a time, I would say then.

How do you block out the noise of the people who say, playing in one spot is cool and you’re going to end up in the Hall of Fame in a Trail Blazers’ uniform but there’s a chance, if you stay there, that you may never win a title?

Damian Lillard: “I’ve always said that, if I do something that goes against who I am, and say I do end up winning, I know me better than any of y’all know me. I’d be happy with it because I don’t think anybody wouldn’t be happy being a champion, but it wouldn’t be as fulfilling to me as I would want that moment to be. Because of how I feel about that… as long as I have an opportunity to do it, a good opportunity to do it, I’m willing to go out however. That’s where I’ve always stood and that’s where I stand is I just want an opportunity to either it’s going to get done or it’s not going to get done. I don’t want to go out there with this crazy uphill battle that I’m fighting and we need a miracle times 10 to get it done. I just want a shot at it and if that happens and it doesn’t workout, then I can live with that.

You talk about confidence in the front office and in Chauncey. I would love to know more about your assessment of ownership, because you know how important that is. A lot of talk about Jody and the future of the franchise and the passing of Paul Allen. That’s a huge factor, so how did you navigate that aspect of this decision?

Damian Lillard: “I had a great relationship with Paul. Before Paul passed, me and him started to really build a relationship. And then after he passed and Jody took over we started to form a relationship and when I was going through it I was just speaking on wanting to win and if there was ever a time where I was like ‘I don’t know where I’m at right now,’ me and her actually spoke on the phone. Me and Jody spoke on the phone for two and a half hours, almost three hours, and after we had that conversation and I had already been in the process of getting to know her and I learned a lot more in that conversation. From that point on it was like, okay, I felt like we were aligned, we were on the same page about things. I was very open about how I felt and where I stood and so was she. I don’t really look into things too deeply that I don’t have all the facts about or things that I don’t know about. I can just go off what I know and what’s in front of me and how I feel about what’s in front of me. The conversations I’ve had when I’ve been face to face with her and we’ve spoken and had conversations, we’ve been on the same page in those moments. I’ve always been comfortable with that, especially after last summer when we spoke. We got off the phone and the way we ended the conversation I won’t say but it made me comfortable with where we were."

A few years ago Stephen Curry played five games or something like that. Steve Kerr said a bunch of times that he came back stronger, a better Steph even. For as much as you probably hated surgery and all that, is there a silver lining that “a redshirt year” will make you a stronger, better player?

Damian Lillard: “One thousand percent. I’ve always been somebody that like, I just get to work. There’s no special schedule. The season ends, I go lift, I do my conditioning, I go to the gym, I get on the court and then later I might want to go run and I’ll go run. The work has always been there and I’ve alway gotten results from it but it was never structured completely the right way. After this injury, not only did I have a chance to kind of take a step back and just be at home, not have to deal with oh, I’ve got to travel, I’ve got a back-to-back, I’ve got to perform, all these things. I was just at home rehabbing, spending time with my family, watching TV shows, go to rehab. I was just like, I was so at peace with just being normal, a normal day-to-day. As I started to get more aggressive in my rehab, I had a PT that I was working with that was a lot of body maintenance stuff. And then I hired a sports science guy that’s speed and agility and managed my scheduled. My strength and conditioning coach that I box with and then Phil, my basketball trainer. We got on a Zoom call and we basically structured everything to where like, I know what I’m doing. When I train with this person it’s going to be a light day on Monday. With this person, it’s going to be medium and then on the court it’s going to be hard. These days I’m just working with my PT and getting on the court, so it’s like structured in a way to where I don’t have to think about ‘I’ve got to get this in, I’ve got to get that in.’ I just know what I’m doing every single day. I look up after two, three months and my body is even looking different than it’s ever looked and when I’m out there moving, I’m moving better than I’ve ever moved. I think there is something to say about that because the mental part has been huge for me. but then actually having a plan and it being structured the way it’s been structured, I’m looking for now and I’m like ‘Man, we still got a long way to go and I’m physically and mentally ready to go right now. So it’s having to pull back and being much lighter than I usually am in the summer and my body fat being much lower than it is in the summer. It’s just so much that I could definitely see why he would say something like that, especially after 10 years of having no breaks. Every summer training, playing 38 minutes a game, not missing game -- I don’t think I missed a game my first four years in the league. And then since then I’ve missed very few until this last season. I definitely think there’s something to be said about it and I do know I’m going to be going into this next season more clear and fresh than I have probably since I first came in the league.