The white flag is being waved in Portland.
With the Blazers sitting at 32-43, five games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final play-in spot, it's fair to say the playoffs probably aren't in the cards this season. That reality has reportedly led the Blazers to shut down their superstar, Damian Lillard, for the rest of the year.
Lillard had already missed the last three games (all losses) with a calf injury. In light of the Blazers' place in the standings — and the benefit that could be gained by juicing their lottery odds — it makes sense that the Blazers would take a forward-thinking approach with Lillard.
It's a somber end to what's been, at least statistically, the best offensive season in Lillard's career. He posted career-highs in points (32.2), 2PT% (57.4), True Shooting percentage (64.5), three-point rate (.547) and attempts (11.3), free-throw rate (.464) and attempts (9.6), and assist rate (35.1).
The rest of his box score numbers — 7.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds, a 37.1% clip from three and 91.4% mark from the free throw line — certainly pass the smell test.
He currently leads the NBA in DunksAndThree's Offensive Estimated Plus-Minus (oEPM) metric (+8.1), narrowly ahead of MVP shortlist candidate Nikola Jokic (+8.0). He ranks fifth in Estimated Wins (EW), the cumulative version of EPM, with 14.0. He only trails Jokic (17.2), Joel Embiid (14.8), Jayson Tatum (14.4) and Luka Doncic (14.3) in that stat.
Lillard was a worthy All-Star and, in the games he appeared in, a no-brainer selection for an All-NBA team. With him only appearing in 58 games (27-31 record), I'm curious to see where the voters land with his case. There's no question Lillard played well enough, but there's room to argue against his candidacy depending on how highly availability and winning rank in a voter's mind.
Bigger picture, the Blazers enter the offseason with the same set of big questions. Can they build a contender around Lillard? How, with their current asset pool, can they do so? And considering what the rest of the conference looks like right now, does it make sense to cash in their chips to build around Lillard, or would it make more sense to use Lillard as the chip to jumpstart a rebuild?
If it's up to Lillard — and please, please stop asking him, he's been clear about his desires! — the Blazers will continue trying to build around him. That'll start with landing on an acceptable number with Jerami Grant, then likely move to evaluating the market for upgrades in the frontcourt.
We have plenty of time to dig into potential offseason moves. For now, Lillard deserves his flowers for an incredible year.
He stretched defenses to their limits with long-distance bombs. He parlayed that shooting gravity into his most efficient season as a driver. Those drives allowed him to further lean into the foul-drawing tricks he's developed throughout his career. And the constant attention he drew opened up passing windows for him to access when necessary.
Oh, right: he also dropped the most efficient 70+ point game in NBA history this year. Can't forget that.
Hopefully Lillard is able to rehab and recharge. I have no idea how you build on a campaign as ridiculous as Lillard's, but he's proven to be someone you can't comfortably bet against.