Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard says he won’t compete in a restarted NBA season if Portland does not have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs.
“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now.”
A joint task force between the NBA and the players’ union has been negotiating plans for a resumption of the NBA’s season, which has been suspended indefinitely since March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Teams are expecting the league to issue guidelines for a resumption of play by June 1, sources have told ESPN.
When play was suspended, the Trail Blazers were in ninth place in the Western Conference with a 29-37 record that left them 3½ games behind the Memphis Grizzlies (32-33) for the conference’s final playoff berth. It remains unclear whether the NBA will play the remainder of its regular season or proceed directly to the playoffs.
Lillard, a five-time All-Star, said he was hoping the league would opt for a play-in style tournament involving the Nos. 7 through 12 seeds. With center Jusuf Nurkic and power forward Zach Collins returning from injuries, Lillard said he’d like the Blazers’ chances in that situation.
“We had fought ourselves back into position to get a spot,” Lillard said. “We had our starting center and starting power forward coming back, so we had a lot to look forward to and for a great reason. Now they’re healthy and have extra time to train and rehab while everybody’s rusty. So now they won’t be coming back as the only rusty players. And if everybody’s rusty, we can come in here and beat everybody.
“It’s going to be hard to get going with no fans. You’ve been off all this time and some people are just ready for summer like, ‘[Expletive] it, I haven’t played in a long time and the season is basically over to me. Do I really care like I cared before?’ It’s going to be a lot of those factors going on and that presents a lot of room for a team to sneak some [expletive]. Like, really mess around and knock some teams off and then, ‘Oh, they’re in the Western Conference finals.’ It’s room for that with this situation. So the fact that it’s possible and we wouldn’t get an opportunity at that, that’s weak to me. I ain’t getting no younger.”
Lillard, 29, is the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer this season, averaging career highs of 28.9 points and 7.8 assists per game. The Blazers reopened their practice facility earlier this month for voluntary workouts.