Two seasons into his professional career, there have been few situations that felt too big for Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. Whether it’s back-to-back game-winners in the regular season, competing in all five events at All-Star Weekend or simultaneously elating an entire fan base while crushing the dreams of another with a playoff series-clinching shot, Lillard has shown that shrinking away from a challenge apparently isn’t in his DNA.
Which is why Lillard felt no nerves competing against a collection of the best players in the world at the first practice USA Basketball practice on the campus on UNLV in Las Vegas.
“”I’m here for a reason,” said Lillard. “If they didn’t feel like I belonged here, they didn’t have to bring me here, cause a lot of people aren’t here. So I don’t even think about that. Not even once.”
Even with players like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant sitting out the 2014 FIBA World Cup, there’s no basketball team more difficult in the world to make than USA Basketball Men’s National Team. Given that, one can imagine that the pressure to perform against a preliminary roster comprised of players who would be shoe-ins to make any other country’s national team would be intense, but that’s just not the case for Lillard. Being afraid of competition, even at it’s highest levels, is foreign to Lillard as the teams he hopes to be playing against in Spain come September.
“When you’re on the court with (Kevin Durant), James Harden, Derrick Rose, I know what they can do, playing against them and watching them,” said Lillard. “So I don’t need to go out there and do all this extra stuff when I can make the game simple for myself. I know what I’m capable of. I know I can knock down shots, I can get to the rim, I can compete here. I’m here for a reason. No nerves at all. I’m just playing.”
Though as he notes, Lillard’s not playing the same role he does in Portland as one half of a potent inside-outside duo with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. That can be difficult for some players, especially when trying to make the final cut by impressing the coaching staff, but when you remove the fear of not making the team from the equation, it becomes easier to settle into a complimentary role.
“I still played, I was myself,” said Lillard. “Obviously I would be more aggressive when I’m playing for (the Trail Blazers). But everybody here can be more aggressive and do more. I think it’s going to take getting in the lane and making that extra pass, getting somebody an easier shot, selling myself to space away from the ball instead of going toward the ball. And I’m just trying to get myself comfortable doing that, instead of just trying to come out here and say, ‘I can do this and I can do that.’ That’s what I’m going to do during the season. But here, I think I need to do more showing what I can do to help this team.”
“These guys are playing 35 to 40 minutes, they’re the dominate players on their teams,” said USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Here, you don’t get as many shots, you don’t get as many minutes, so they can play defense harder, they don’t need to pace themselves.”
Lillard came off the bench for Rose during a scrimmage Monday afternoon and looked as though he was taking Krzyzewski’s message to heart as he hounded Kyrie Irving and John Wall on defense while infrequently looking for his own shot on offense. And while he might not have had any highlight plays, he showed that the role he’d ultimately have on Team USA is one he’s more than willing to fill.
“You’ll see guys who don’t have a reputation for playing hard defense picking up full-court,” said Lillard, possibly using himself as an example. “You’ll see guys doing stuff that basically shows you that there are going sell themselves for the greater good of the team. And that’s what it’s all about. You see the passion that they play with and that’s the difference. That’s what it takes to be able to a part of something like (USA Basketball).”
How Lillard comports himself during the remaining practices and the scrimmage on Friday evening will go a long way to deciding whether he’ll be spending September in Europe as a part of Team USA or in Portland preparing for the 2014-15 NBA season. The competition is stiff, but his odds of making the World Cup roster are in no way the longest he’s faced in his life, let alone as a basketball player. He may fail, as all of us eventually do, but he’s not going to fear the challenge nor come away from the experience empty-handed.
“It’s one of those things where anybody could make (the World Cup roster) and anybody could not make it,” said Lillard. “You can’t be mad if you don’t make it. But if you do make it, you can be really thankful because it can go either way. Everybody’s worthy. Everybody can bring something special to the team. So I think we’ve just got to take advantage of this week, just really work hard, go against each other and try to make each other better. At the end of the week, they’ll decide what they want to decide. But I think we should just take advantage of having this company for a whole week.”
A little over a week ago, Damian Lillard, aka Dame D.O.L.L.A., held his first concert ever, a sold out affair at the Crystal Ballroom that also featured CJ McCollum and Tim Frazier dancing on stage, on his 26th birthday. By all accounts (including my own), the show went off without a hitch.
After getting his first official show under his belt, Lillard took his show on the road last weekend, performing for a packed crowd of high schoolers at the adidas LVL3 event, which was a part of the adidas Uprising AAU tournament held in Las Vegas. Media wasn’t granted access to Lillard’s Portland show, so video of that performance is scarce (though a, new “License To Lillard” episode chronicling the night is in the works), but there are a few clips of Lillard performing this weekend in Vegas, with fellow NBA players such as James Harden and Derrick Rose in attendance in case you’re curious about Dame’s stage presence…
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) July 24, 2016
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) July 23, 2016
Lillard also shared the stage with a few of the players on Team Lillard Elite, the AAU team he sponsors in conjunction with adidas, who were brave enough to test their battling skills in front of a crowd of their peers…
— #4BarFriday (@4BarFriday) July 24, 2016
In addition to the show, Lillard spoke during a panel about his signature shoe, the D Lillard 2, and participated in a number of stations adidas was running in order to keep the large number of teenage boys in attendance from the tournament from doing the kind of things teenage boys do when they get bored…
Just the beginning.
— adidas Basketball (@adidasHoops) July 24, 2016
Join the movement.
— adidas Basketball (@adidasHoops) July 23, 2016
Yesterday was a movie.
— adidas Basketball (@adidasHoops) July 22, 2016
— adidas Basketball (@adidasHoops) July 21, 2016
Looks like everyone had a great time and Lillard was right in the center of the action, which is good news if you’re a Trail Blazers fan. After all, it’s never a bad thing to have young, talented players rubbing elbows and building relationships with your franchise player.
Comedian/actor/radio show host Jay Mohr was in Portland on Thursday during which he hosted a live edition of Jay Mohr Sports on Rip City Radio 620 AM. Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who is still in Las Vegas taking in Summer League, joined the show to discuss a host of NBA topics. You can listen to the entire interview below, though I’ve also transcribed a few of the more interesting answers…
“They’re going to be damn good, that’s for sure. They’ll be a little bit different, they lost three of their big guys so they’ll have to tweak their defense a little bit. One of the keys to their success the last two years was their defense and I think that got overlooked because of how well they scored the ball. They’re going to be a better offensive team, they’re going to be the favorite to win, but you never know until you toss it up.”
On signing free agent guard/forward Evan Turner…
“I’ve read some of the experts about us signing Evan and I’m surprised they don’t see the fit, because Evan is a really good basketball player. He handles the ball, he’s got a high assist ratio, he makes players better. I talked to Brad Stevens about him afterwards, they’re going to miss him in Boston. He’s a versatile defender, he’s unselfish, I think he fits into our culture. The one thing that I think gets overlooked is there was such pressure on Damian and CJ last year to be scorers and playmakers and particularly, the way I rotated the players, one of them was in the game at all times. Well Evan gives us another playmaker to take some of the load off of Damian and CJ, hopefully they’ll get better shots. You can add more playmaking — you look at the Golden State Warriors, how many playmakers they had on the court. They had two, three, four playmakers on the court at one time and that just adds to your effectiveness offensively. And defensively, Evan’s a versatile defender, he can guard two or three positions. Like I said, I think he fits in really well.”
On Damian Lillard tweeting “Hell no” when asked about returning to Oakland to play for the Warriors…
“It was pure Damian. He’s proud to be a Blazer, he loves Portland, he loves the franchise and he’s really embraced the role of being the face of the franchise. I was glad to read that.”
On the baseless speculation that the team is moving to Seattle…
“(Laughs) No. With all due respect to you Jay, and I do have immense respect, but that doesn’t really deserve a response. We’re the Portland Trail Blazers, always have been.”
It’s summer time in Portland (or at least, it’s supposed to be), which means there’s no lack of street fairs, farmers markets, beerfests and art walks to attend. Anyone who frequents such events knows how hard it can be to get from Point A to Point B when there’s thousands of people in between.
But Damian Lillard has you covered. In a new adidas short entitled “Creating Clutch,” the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State traverses a busy street market in China (wearing the “PDX Carpet” colorway of the D Lillard 2, if I’m not mistaken) using an array of moves that you can incorporate into your own crowd-surfing…
In “Creating Clutch,” Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard shows us there is no such thing as downtime if you want to be one of the best clutch players in the NBA. A crowded street market in China during his recent Summer tour became his court, the ultimate opportunity to test his creativity and put his skills to the test.