PORTLAND, Ore. — It’s been a busy offseason for the Portland Trail Blazers as the front office has made several moves with the hopes of upgrading the roster that reached the Western Conference Finals last season. That included signing Damian Lillard to a $196-million contract extension that could keep the All-Star point guard in Rip City through the 2024-2025 season.
Lillard has been direct about his desire to stay in Portland his entire career and be the greatest Blazer of all time. He said signing another long-term deal with Portland is about building upon the success he’s already experienced.
“It’s been a huge investment, not just on the floor but everything off the court,” he said. “I want to finish the job. I want to be here for my career, so I can finish the things I started.”
Lillard made the comments during his basketball camp in Beaverton on Tuesday. The camp is one of the off-the-court investments he’s made in Portland. Lillard has become a staple of the Portland community and has motivated children to be their best through his RESPECT program. Like the RESPECT program, the pillars of which are show up, work hard and be kind, Lillard said his camp is about more than just about basketball.
“The most important thing is the lessons we try to teach them with each camp coach. Learn to follow instructions… just take the direction and instill those things in them,” he said. “Meet a new friend, treat people the right way, be kind. Stuff like that that they can take back to school, and they can take home.”
As for the investment he’s made on the court, Lillard said this is probably the most anticipation he's felt for any season. Part of that is because after a couple of years of maintaining the core of their roster, the Blazers made some major changes this offseason. Those changes included trading for Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore, re-signing Rodney Hood and signing free agents Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja.
While Lillard recognized how everyone meshes will be vital to the team’s success this upcoming season, he said the growth of two of team’s young players, Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons, may be more critical.
“If they can have big summers and come back, they can really have an impact on our team,” Lillard said of the former first-round picks. “They can really be what could make us take that next step, especially with what we added.”
The offseason of change hasn't just been Blazers-centric. The Western Conference has seen a transformation, and for the first time in half a decade there isn’t a clear-cut favorite. But to Lillard, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier for the Blazers to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1992.
“It might look more balanced, but it probably got tougher to win in the West because every team is good now,” he said.
As for his offseason, Lillard said it has been busy with working out and other responsibilities. That included filming for Space Jam 2. Lillard said he spent about a week filming. He said the days were long, about 15 hours each, but he is "pretty much done" filming his part. There was one downside to filming, Lillard said.
"I've always had a baby face. This season I grew a beard out. It took me like six months to grow it. I showed up on set and they made me shave it off for the animation," he said.
As for what his role is, Lillard was tight-lipped but did give a nugget for Blazers fans to be excited about.
“It’s significant,” Lillard said of his role. “It’s not a cameo, I can tell you that.”
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