Most of us have to give our lives away. There is just no way to swing it, to pay for everything that needs paying for without showing up to an office or worksite we don’t want to be at five-plus days a week, neuralgic early morning blear giving way to existential dread around noon, and it is only Tuesday. We do this until we’re quite old, or very old, or until we die with our project uncompleted, extinguished minds still vibrating with questions we ultimately don’t care about, someone else’s problems that we have been contracted to solve. And what of our own?
Anyone who doesn’t have to participate in this system shouldn’t. The beautiful and sublimely talented, rich kids, people who by some miracle extract a middle class living from their passions. If you don’t feel like you’re wasting half your waking hours and most of your energy, you are living better than almost anyone else. Whatever drudgery looks like to you, run from it.
Dame Lillard should get the hell out of Portland. That’s what it seems like he wants to do, and he probably has the leverage to do it. Nobody can say he didn’t give the Blazers a fair shake. He’s been with the organization since being drafted sixth overall in 2012, made six All-NBA teams, qualified for the playoffs every year except his rookie season, won a handful of big playoff games more or less by himself, and built his heroic legend in the Pacific Northwest. There are superstars whose ringlessness seems to indicate a defect in their character or ability. Dame isn’t like that. He’s done about as much as he could possibly do with what he’s been provided in Portland. LaMarcus Aldridge, C.J. McCollum, a cast of small forwards who can’t shoot, Jusuf Nurkić struggling to stay healthy. Through it all, the Blazers have been good but not great. The good part is to Dame’s credit. The not-great part isn’t his fault.
His condensed lifetime as a ballplayer is closer to its end than its beginning. He’ll be 31 in a couple weeks. At 40, he’ll be out of the league or barely hanging on. At 35, he might not be an elite player anymore. There’s simply not a lot of time for him to win a title as a major contributor, and it’s not going to happen in Portland, not imminently. Dame’s been grumbling about this predicament with what he thinks passes for subtlety for over a year now, and after the Blazers’ season concluded abruptly against a banged up Denver Nuggets squad, he made his discontent more explicit: “obviously where we are isn't good enough to win a championship, if it's not good enough to get out of a first round series with two of [the Nuggets’] best three or four players not on the floor.”
So Neil Olshey fired Terry Stotts, and argued in vain that the Blazers’ quick out was “not a product of the roster,” but we all know he’s on thin ice. The thing is, there’s no obvious change Olshey can make, that would transform his team into a title contender. McCollum for Ben Simmons? Some salary-matched junk for Kevin Love? Unless Joel Embiid suddenly reveals that it’s been his dream since he was a boy to become Cameroonian Bill Walton, the Blazers are stuck.
Dame knows this. Which is why he’s now asking for a trade, or is considering asking for a trade, or sorry: “league sources” tell Chris Haynes that “the enormous backlash from the Portland Trail Blazers' process to hire a new coach and [Lillard’s] concerns on whether a championship contender can be built have become factors that may push the franchise player… out the door.” Note the strange passive voice, like Newtonian physics would be to blame for Dame’s departure. Haynes and Dame are tight; he’s operating as a mouthpiece here, not a journalist.
That hiring process complaint is a stretch. Olshey has brought in Chauncey Billups as the Blazers’ new boss with Dame’s approval. He said so publicly a few weeks ago: “J-Kidd and Chauncey, that’s who I like.” Those weren’t the only options. Becky Hammon and Mike D’Antoni’s names have been in the headlines, those vague under consideration stories that swirl around vacant head coaching positions. But Dame’s the most important person in the organization, so they’re bringing in his choice. That’s fine as far as it goes, but more conscientious members of the media have been bringing up a 1997 rape allegation against Chauncey and the news has made some Blazers fans uneasy about or outright opposed to him taking the job.
It’s worth noting that NBA teams typically blow past these concerns. Shortly after Luke Walton was announced as the Kings new head coach in 2019, a female reporter came forward with a sexual assault allegation that Sacramento brass no-commented on and just kind of hoped would go away. (It eventually did, when she dropped her civil suit against Walton.) This past Friday the Mavericks, perhaps looking to build on their extensive history of being a terrible place for a woman to work, decided to bring aboard Dame’s other favorite: noted domestic abuser Jason Kidd. And now the Blazers have made up their minds on Billups, finally deciding that they want him to be their coach more than they want to elide a mild public relations headache. (Let’s not pretend there was ever a moral dimension to this.) Dame likes him, Olshey knows him well, and that’s that. Whatever happened in back in the late 90s most people will forget about anyway, if they even cared in the first place.
Except, except: over the weekend, a guy with fewer than 300 Twitter followers expressed some dismay about the Billups move, assigning Lillard his fair share of the blame. Dame, apparently name-searching on a Saturday morning, quote-tweeted this obscure fan, responding that he didn’t know about the allegations (not the best, but okay) and insinuating that he was barely involved in the hiring process (uh-huh, sure). And then about 24 hours later, the Haynes report dropped. The lede is cited above, but here’s the most ridiculous part: “Lillard has remained loyal to Portland in large part due to the tremendous fan base. But over the last few days, he’s seen some of those same fans attacking him on social media for a pending coaching hire he played no part in consummating, sources said.” Again, the civilian Dame took umbrage with didn’t tag him and has fewer than 300 followers. Sure seems like somebody’s inventing reasons to get upset.
Dame feels like he has to do this because he accused Paul George of “running from the grind” for joining up with Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, and as recently as this past February, he claimed he would never assemble a super team. He doesn’t want to look like a hypocrite should he leave to play with LeBron in Los Angeles, or Bam and Jimmy in Miami, or some yet-to-be-determined superstar in New York. Thus, he’s been blindsided and angered by the Blazers hiring a coach he publicly endorsed, and is deeply distraught that a handful of nobodies on Twitter are saying that they would have preferred Portland hire someone without a sexual assault allegation in their past. As you can clearly see, the situation is untenable. Inviolable trusts broken, doubt in the air like brine in the seawind.
It would be more than fine if Dame just said that he wants to leave. He’s in his early 30s and doesn’t think he can win with a franchise he’s been carrying for nearly a decade. There’s no shame in that. Don’t give your life away, if you don’t have to. But Lillard’s trapped by his own myth—the loyal one, the fierce underdog—and attempting to square his actual desires with what he thinks he should be, for other people. Dame Lillard™ is making Dame Lillard look like a disingenuous ass. He’s creating obligations for himself, and it’s hard enough already, to be satisfied in your work.