Damian Lillard spent 11 seasons in Portland attempting to bring the Trail Blazers glory in the NBA Finals. But the sharpshooting guard and his teammates could never crack a Western Conference filled with other teams filled with stars. Thanks to a big offseason trade, Lillard landed in Milwaukee this offseason.
Acquiring Lillard may have been the final transaction to keep Milwaukee superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Bucks. The challenge, as Black sports news goes, is how these athletes will gel together. Milwaukee did see some important players leave the team due to trade.
The Bucks, however, will be in a good position to add new players to the lineup. Milwaukee coach Adrian Griffin is in his first season as head coach and will be searching for the direction he wants the team to go in.
Lillard performed about as expected during his debut. He scored 39 points while Milwaukee beat the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bucks are hoping this is the beginning of a strong relationship.
Lillard Originally Wanted to Go to Miami
Seeing Lillard take the court in the season opener was strange. Not just for seeing him playing for somewhere else other than Portland. It seemed for a while that the Miami Heat would be the landing spot for Lillard.
That’s how he wanted it, anyway. But that’s not how life worked out. Instead, Lillard was included in a three-way trade between the Bucks, Phoenix Suns, and Trail Blazers. Milwaukee received Lillard back.
Portland acquired Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, and Jrue Holiday, in addition to a few draft picks. Phoenix received Jusuf Nurkić, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson, and Grayson Allen in the deal. Miami was disappointed with the way things worked out.
The defending Eastern Conference champion Heat were desperate to add another star to play alongside Jimmy Butler. However, Miami didn’t have the assets to swing a deal for Lillard.
Why Was Lillard So Sought After?
Lillard, a 6-foot-2 point guard, came to the NBA after four years at Weber State. Once Lillard settled into being a professional, he quickly developed into one of the NBA’s most prolific 3-point shooters. From his rookie year in 2012-13, Portland saw early returns on Lillard.
Lillard was one of the most durable players in the league for a while. He played 70 or more games during his first seven seasons in the NBA.
He averaged 19 points per game as a rookie and made 36.8 percent of his 3-point attempts. Lillard was plagued by injuries over the past two seasons, playing 29 and 58 games, respectively. Despite the recent injuries, Lillard has been more than an effective scorer.
Lillard has averaged 25.2 points per game during his career and shoots slightly over 37 percent from the 3-point line during his career. Lillard’s strong play has earned him seven trips to the All-Star game and his being named to the All-NBA team seven times.
Lillard Opens Space vs. Philadelphia
Lillard’s debut already showcased what he can best bring to Milwaukee: space. With Lillard on the floor, Antetokounmpo was able to freelance and utilize the space available. Antetokounmpo finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Having Lillard on the floor opened up things for Antetokounmpo to attack the rim or do some dirty work underneath. Lillard was also able to effectively knock down shots from the outside. He made 33 percent (4-of-12) of his 3-point attempts to finish with 39 points. Lillard also finished with eight rebounds and four assists during Portland’s 118-117 win over Philadelphia.
Lillard made two important free throws with 11.1 seconds remaining to stretch the lead to four points.
What are Milwaukee’s Playoff Aspirations?
A large reason for Milwaukee bringing Lillard in was due to their playoff failure last season. The Bucks rolled through the regular season and were rewarded with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Then Milwaukee was unceremoniously bounced by the No. 8 seeded Miami Heat in the first round.
The loss upset the franchise, which has seen a major renaissance since Antetokounmpo came into the league. Milwaukee fired long-time coach Mike Budenholzer following the early exit. In addition to personnel changes made, the Bucks signaled to everyone that they wanted to return to the championship picture right away.
Lillard’s Playoff Time in Portland Full of Quick Exits
When Lillard was with the Trail Blazers, he helped lead Portland to its longest-sustained success in quite some time. He was Rookie of the Year during the 2012-13 season, but the team missed the playoffs. After that season, Portland rolled off eight straight appearances in the playoffs.
The Trail Blazers’ best run during that era was a trip to the Western Conference Finals during the 2018-19 season. However, Portland saw its run end there after being swept by the dynastic Golden State Warriors.
After the loss to the Warriors, things quickly slid away from Portland. Any looking at the latest NBA news will see why Lillard may have wanted to leave so quickly. After the loss to the Warriors, Portland had consecutive first-round exits to the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.
In the two seasons before this one, Portland struggled all season with Lillard injured. The Trail Blazers finished 13th in the West in both seasons and missed the playoffs.
Milwaukee Ready to Keep Moving Forward
Getting the first win together was important for the Bucks. But they need to continue to build on the early momentum. The Eastern Conference is filled with a number of teams that could contend for the title. Lillard will be a big piece for the Bucks.
If he can stay healthy and maintain good form, Lillard may be able to help Milwaukee get back to the finals and bring home a third championship.
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