PORTLAND, Ore. — After a second consecutive season in which the Portland Trail Blazers limped to the finish line, finishing with one of the NBA's worst records after opting to chase draft lottery odds rather than wins, star guard Damian Lillard said it's time for that to change.
Lillard, 32, played as well as he ever has this season. The All-Star guard averaged 32.2 points (a career high), 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds, and played in 58 of the team's first 72 games before sitting out Portland's final 10 games as the organization pivoted from chasing a playoff berth to chasing lottery position. Lillard proved there were no lingering effects from last season's abdominal surgery.
But during exit interviews Sunday after the Blazers' 56-point loss to the Golden State Warriors in the regular-season finale, Lillard said he's done waiting for Portland's front office to put a roster around him that can contend for a championship.
Don't get it wrong. Lillard is still committed to Portland and the Blazers. But he's perhaps never been as direct about his expectations as he was Sunday, talking about what he wants to see from the front office this offseason following a "frustrating" and "underwhelming" season.
"I think it's just time to get the work done," he said.
Lillard: 'I want a chance to go for it'
Lillard said there are players who "really move the needle" who want to play in Portland with him — he didn't name names — but he said the question now is whether the Blazers' front office can complete trades this summer to bring players like that to Portland.
"Knowing that and then actually making something happen to make that a reality is a completely separate thing," he said.
The Blazers, who have the fifth-best draft lottery odds, will have a selection among the top eight picks this summer. Barring lottery luck that gifts the Blazers the No. 1 pick and the opportunity to draft French phenom Victor Wembanyama, a top-eight draft selection could be a valuable trade chip in a deal for a big star.
What Lillard doesn't want, he said, is to be part of a team that's building through the draft. Lillard praised rookie Shaedon Sharpe, who was drafted with the seventh pick last offseason, but he said Sharpe is "different." Lillard said he doesn't expect other young players to be able to improve so quickly and contribute like Sharpe did this season.
Lillard said he isn't looking for more "19-year-olds." He's looking for players who "move the needle" and for more veterans around him.
"I want a chance to go for it," he said. "And if the route is to [build through the draft], that's not my route."
Lillard said he believes that he, head coach Chauncey Billups and general manager Joe Cronin are aligned in their belief of what needs to happen this summer. For as direct as he was, he also said he was optimistic.
"I think we all in line with doing what we gotta do to put a team together that we can actually go out there and get something done," he said.
Cronin: 'It's time for us to start winning basketball games'
Cronin said the goal is to "get better as soon as possible."
"Timeline-wise, it's time for us to start moving quicker towards having a roster that's ready to compete at the highest level," the Blazers' general manager said. "If that means using [this year's lottery pick] or other picks in deals, where it's getting aggressive to go get stuff done, we're open-minded to that."
Cronin said he knows there's risk in that path, trading valuable draft picks or talented young players to try to get better quickly. He said the front office has to weigh that risk against any potential reward.
"Sometimes if you're in a hurry, if you're trying to speed things up, you make mistakes or you trade a really good player," he said. "It's something that we have to live with sometimes, too. If we're committed to winning now, we have to be able to live with what the future holds for some player that we traded."
Lillard isn't the only one fed up with the losing. Cronin said he and everyone in the front office is putting the pressure on themselves this offseason because they don't want another year like the last two.
"We don't want to go through this anymore," he said. "It's time for us to start winning basketball games. ... We don't want to have another year like this year."
Billups: 'We've got to be more aggressive'
Billups echoed Cronin and Lillard on Sunday. Portland's head coach said the Blazers need to be aggressive this offseason and stop just making tweaks around the margins. He said it's the right thing to do for a player like Lillard.
"We've done the tweak thing a few times and I think we've got to be more aggressive than that," he said. "That's just my opinion. If we want to do right by the best player in the history of this organization, we have to be aggressive."