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NBA PM: Damian Lillard Setting Lofty Goals
Posted By Alex Kennedy On July 25, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard discusses his successful rookie campaign, goals for the upcoming season and thoughts on the team's offseason moves.Watch More Video Here
Last July, Damian Lillard sat in the stands of the Thomas and Mack Center between Las Vegas Summer League games and candidly discussed his expectations for his rookie season. The young point guard didn’t lack confidence during this conversation, predicting that he would take the league by storm and separate himself from the other players in the 2012 draft class. While Lillard seemed to emerge as a star out of nowhere for the Portland Trail Blazers, he saw his success coming all along.
At the time, Lillard was still a relatively unknown player who hadn’t yet proven himself against professionals. He had been selected sixth overall after a prolific college career at Weber State, but there were still a lot of questions surrounding him since he wasn’t a traditional point guard and he had never played against top-notch competition on a nightly basis while in the Big Sky Conference.
However, Lillard never had any doubts about his game, and he believed that his transition to the NBA would be smoother than expected due to everything that he faced with the Wildcats. At Weber State, Lillard was one of the top scorers in the nation despite facing everything from triple teams to box-and-one schemes. His supporting cast on the Wildcats was decent for a mid-major school, but he couldn’t wait to play alongside other star-caliber players such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum in Portland. Lillard also knew that he had translatable skills such as his jump shot and ability to run the pick-and-roll, which would help him adjust to playing in the best league in the world.
While it’s not uncommon for a rookie to exude confidence as he enters the league, it’s not often that a player is able to back up his words and accomplish everything he sets out to do. However, Lillard did just that, averaging 19 points and 6.5 assists and becoming just the fourth unanimous Rookie of the Year in NBA history. When all was said and done, Lillard joined Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson as the only rookies in league history to record 1,500 points and 500 assists in their debut season.
Looking back on his successful rookie year, Lillard credits the hard work that he put in during the summer of 2012. He did his pre-draft training in Oakland and it was those rigorous workouts that got him ready for the NBA’s grueling 82-game season.
“I prepared for it,” Lillard told HOOPSWORLD. “I didn’t know what to expect so I was kind of edgy about it, but my workouts were as tough as they could have been. I wanted to be able to be tired and out there dying, but still be able to rise up and hit a three, still be able to push through and finish a game. I think by doing those things, I helped myself.”
The 23-year-old is determined to not only duplicate his success from last year, but expand his game and top his production from last year. That’s a realistic goal, as Lillard had some of his best outings late in the season once he got used to playing in the league. In March, he increased his averages to 21.3 points and 6.8 assists while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from long range, which could be a sign of what’s to come in his second season since he has grown accustomed to the NBA game.
This offseason, Lillard will get back in the gym so that he can build on his outstanding first impression and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. At some point this summer, he’ll also train with NBA legend and fellow Oakland native Gary Payton. Lillard is currently participating in Team USA’s minicamp in Las Vegas, but after that he’ll return to his normal training regimen.
Listening to Lillard talk about the aspects of his game that he wants to improve this summer, you would never know that he’s just several months removed from completing one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory. Add unwavering work ethic and desire for perfection to the list of qualities that separate Lillard from his peers and suggest that he’s poised for greatness.
“Just keep working,” Lillard said. “There are always things you can improve on. After watching a lot of film, there’s a lot of stuff that I noticed myself that I can improve on. All my workouts are focusing on stuff I can get better at: floaters, different finishes around the rim when I get into the paint instead of challenging bigs all the time, ball-handling, tighten up my handle, get more shots up, try to get my percentage up, being in better shape, just stuff like that, all the small things that I can improve on.”
Because Lillard expects to improve in so many areas and is now completely adjusted to the NBA game, he’s anticipating a big 2013-14 season and setting some lofty goals for himself.
“First of all, I want to make the playoffs,” Lillard said. “This team probably doesn’t have the make-up of a championship team, but you still want to compete for one. We want to make the playoffs. I want to try and make the All-Star team. I want to be an All-NBA player. There’s a lot of stuff I want to do.”
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey improved the supporting cast around Lillard and Aldridge this offseason, adding players such as C.J. McCollum, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson to the roster. Lillard couldn’t be happier with these moves, and he believes the additions will help Portland achieve their postseason goal.
McCollum, who the Blazers selected with the 10th overall pick in the draft, gives Portland another guard who can score at will from anywhere on the court. He can either start alongside Lillard in the backcourt or fill the sixth man role for the Blazers. Lillard and McCollum have been friends for years and have a lot in common on and off the court, so the duo is understandably excited to team up in Portland.
“I loved the pick,” Lillard said of Portland’s decision to draft McCollum. “I thought it was what we needed. I think he brings scoring, coming off the bench he’ll be able to score the ball. I think he’ll be a spark plug for us, also a playmaker. He’s confident, you don’t see a lot of rookies coming in with the extreme confidence that he has.”
Lopez and Wright are underrated acquisitions as well since Portland entered this offseason looking to add a defensive-minded center and a three-point shooter.
“I think Robin will be a big presence down low; he’s a big body when guards are attacking the rim,” Lillard said. “I think he’ll be a great offensive rebounder for us. As far as Dorell, he’s a great shooter. I think having great shooters out there spreads the floor out and it’ll give me lanes to drive, so it’ll help me being able to have somebody to kick out to that I know is a knock-down shooter.”
If all goes as planned, Lillard will lead the Blazers to playoffs next season while making the All-Star team and taking home All-NBA honors. That may seem unrealistic, but this wouldn’t be the first time that Lillard exceeded all expectations to meet lofty goals. Lillard’s goals for last season seemed improbable as well, but it’s tough to doubt the brash youngster after watching him predict a meteoric rise and sensational rookie season, and then go out and make it happen shortly thereafter.
Miami Weighing Free Agency Options
It has been a quiet offseason for the Miami HEAT. Thus far, the team’s biggest addition has been second-round pick James Ennis, who was acquired in a trade on draft night.
However, that may change very soon. While the HEAT don’t have much money to spend, they can offer the taxpayer mid-level exception that starts at $3.183 million as well as veteran’s minimum contracts, which allows them to go shopping from free agency’s bargain bin.
Miami is currently pursuing a number of free agents, with center Greg Oden atop their wish list. Joining the HEAT makes a lot of sense for the 25-year-old big man since he’d be able to attempt his comeback in a pressure-free environment, with a team that can afford to be patient with him as he gets into playing shape. If he’s able to stay healthy, he’d be on a contender and have the opportunity to earn significant playing time given Miami’s need for an interior presence. The low-risk, high-reward Oden experiment would be similar to Miami’s Eddy Curry experiment from two years ago.
The HEAT began expressing interest in Oden last year and they seemed like the frontrunner to land his services at one point. However, a number of other teams started pursuing Oden over the last year, offering more lucrative contracts. With more money and years on the table, Oden had to step back and reconsider his next move. Now, Oden is deciding between six teams – Miami, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Atlanta and Dallas – and he’s expected to pick a team very soon.
If Oden chooses Miami, the HEAT will likely have to use their entire taxpayer mid-level exception to sign him, which means they’ll only have minimum deals to offer other free agents. However, if Oden decides to sign elsewhere, Miami will turn their attention to other free agents.
Mo Williams is another free agent drawing interest from Miami. The veteran point guard hasn’t received the kinds of offers he expected to get this summer. Since he hasn’t been able to land a high-dollar, multi-year deal, Williams may decide to take a significant pay cut from his 2012-13 salary of $8.5 million to sign with a contender, according to sources. If he decides to go this route, Miami will be one of the teams that he considers given that they’re the favorites to win it all next year and Williams obviously has history with LeBron James dating back to their Cleveland Cavaliers days.
If Miami swings and misses on both Oden and Williams, they may decide not to spend their MLE and instead turn their attention to free agents who could be had for the minimum. Possible options include Sebastian Telfair, DeJuan Blair, Stephen Jackson, Ronnie Brewer, Lamar Odom and Corey Maggette among others since these are players who seem interested in joining a contender. The HEAT currently have 13 players under contract for the 2013-14 season.
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