Canzano: Trail Blazers ask Damian Lillard to scoot over
So what happens next?
The Trail Blazers did what any reasonable NBA franchise would have done on Thursday night — they tried to get better.
I don’t know where you were when Portland picked Scoot Henderson with the third pick in the NBA Draft. Maybe he’ll end up good enough to make you remember. But Damian Lillard was apparently in Europe, about as far away from the scene as a he could be.
“You draft best player possible,” General Manager Joe Cronin said, “then figure it out.”
I don’t blame him a bit.
I also don’t blame Lillard if he saw it and thought: “Ciao.”
Lillard will turn 33 in a couple of weeks. His $49 million salary will gobble up a third of the team’s salary cap next season. A year after that, he’ll make $58.5 million. He’s a gifted player working on a timeline that doesn’t really fit.
End of an era?
Sure. When the deal is right for the club, not Lillard. I like that Cronin didn’t wilt amid the mounting pressure in the way former team president and GM Steve Patterson did in rushing to trade Rasheed Wallace to the Atlanta Hawks in 2004.
“Watershed day,” Patterson announced as he was getting pantsed.
Cronin kept his trousers on this week. He made the pick. Henderson is a promising player. He’ll be fun to watch. I’ll also be interested to see how calculated Camp Lillard will be in trying to get what it wants in the coming weeks. While we wait, though, I’m left wondering how Lillard and Henderson might play alongside each other should it come to that.
Long-time college coach Tom Crean recruited Henderson out of high school and watched his growth closely over the last two seasons. This week Crean told me Henderson is “darn-near impossible” to guard when he’s coming downhill with the ball.
“He’s got unreal speed and explosion,” Crean said. “Just unbelievable where he’s at. But I’d almost want him off the ball right now to use his speed and quickness to exploit close-outs.”
Can he co-exist with Lillard?
“No doubt,” Crean said.
A few quick things:
I have little faith that the current ownership and management structure of the Blazers is going to translate to success anytime soon. I’ll bet Lillard feels about the same way today. Winning in professional sports is difficult enough when you have a motivated owner and a clear plan. Portland has neither right now.
Is there really a difficult decision to make?
Not sure I see it that way for the Blazers today. The commitment the franchise ultimately has it to itself and the fan base, not Lillard. They’ve been quietly rebuilding in case anyone hasn’t noticed. If there’s a no-brainer trade offer for Lillard in the coming weeks, they should take it. If not, don’t. Not really difficult at all.
The Lillard conundrum threatens to turn into a summer drama. His agent, Aaron Goodwin is a masterful behind-the-scenes tactician. He’ll do what’s best for his client. But I like that the Trail Blazers did what was best for themselves on Thursday.
Like Cronin said — you draft the best player and figure it out.
The Blazers have done far worse things over the years.
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