Never afraid to share the rock, Chris Paul tossed the ball ahead
into the frontcourt. Jae Crowder received it and executed a
familiar dribble handoff to Devin Booker — the two have done this
familiar curl set all season long.
But the Milwaukee Bucks were ready for it; Khris Middleton and
Brook Lopez suddenly stood between Booker and the basket.
Improvising, Booker crossed over to his left and beat Middleton off
the dribble before vertically splitting the two defenders just
beneath the free throw line.
Majestically, the 24-year-old rose up and nailed an off-balance
11-footer over the two. Sure, the basket was only worth two points,
but for the Suns — and especially Booker — the first bucket of Game
1 of the 2021 NBA Finals counted for so much more.
Loudly and resoundingly, the 24-year-old announced to the Bucks,
as he announced it to the world.
Fortunately for Devin Booker, he never listened to us. Like
Damian Lillard, he never demanded a trade.
From the time Damian Lillard was selected with the sixth overall
pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, he’s been giving us stuff to talk
about. Whether it was how impressive he was as a rookie, his clutch
gene or his ability to morph into a franchise player after the
departure of LaMarcus Aldridge — he’s long been a story.
Perhaps unfortunately for him now, everyone seems to have his
name in their mouth.
The public has decided it’s time for Lillard to leave Portland,
while the superstar himself has stopped short of making any such
And it begs the consideration: perhaps slowly but surely, the
tide is beginning to turn.
Perhaps Lillard has come to understand some of the lessons
learned by others who decided to travel the easy road to a
There’s a difference between winning and winning on one’s own
terms. He’s obviously pursuing the latter.
A two-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP, Kevin
Durant isn’t given the respect that one would’ve assumed he
would’ve gotten after accomplishing such things. And for reasons
easy enough to understand, of LeBron James’ four championships, the
one in Cleveland seems to be the most meaningful — both to him and
Carmelo Anthony wanted out of Denver, Paul George bolted from
Indiana and James Harden asked out of Houston — each left their
team wanting to try something new, and in each case, their legacy
hasn't materially benefitted from their decision.
So, Lillard might be looking at his situation and wondering
whether forcing a trade — his four-year, $196 supermax contract
(with a player option in the final season) kicks in starting this
year, mind you — is actually the answer for him. Especially since
he’s made a home in Portland.
What many people fail to understand about the modern NBA player
is that, in most instances, the decision to develop one’s talents
to the extent necessary to make it as a pro is a decision that’s
made early. At 10 years old, many players are already participating
at competitive camps and local leagues. As teenagers, players
travel around the country playing AAU ball. Some attend multiple
high schools and junior colleges all before even sniffing the
The end game, in many instances, is to not only make it in the
NBA, but to find stability. To find a home.
So when a player like Lillard lands in Portland, in some
instances, his personal and professional growth causes him to
become interwoven with the franchise, those fans and that city.
That’s why, more often than the general public knows, grown men
shed tears when trades happen.
Could Lillard have more success in Boston playing alongside
Jayson Tatum? He probably could, and if the Celtics were willing to
build a package around Jaylen Brown, Romeo Langford and/or Robert
Williams… maybe a conversation would be had.
Or perhaps the Philadelphia 76ers would be willing to build a package featuring Ben
Simmons along with Shake Milton and/or Matisse Thybulle.
Surely, Lillard would believe that he could win it all with Joel
The Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Dallas
Mavericks all have chips they could offer in a theoretical deal for
Lillard, but it seems that the superstar point guard subscribes to
the same school of thought as Giannis Antetokounmpo: Yes, I
want to win. But I want to win here.
At 31 years old, Lillard is no spring chicken. At some point, he
might make the difficult decision to ask out. But according to
recent reports, that day hasn’t
Someone needs to speak up and let it be known: there’s something
admirable about traversing the more rugged path.
One of the best things about the 2021 NBA Finals is that, from a
human standpoint, it’s impossible to not feel good for whichever
When Giannis had the world at his fingertips, he chose to
double-down on his commitment to Milwaukee. And Chris Paul saw
daylight breaking in Phoenix before
the rest of us, believing he could help pull out the team’s
Rings culture and the pursuit of the Larry O’Brien trophy has
poisoned the mind of an entire generation of basketball fans. Many
of us have reached the point to where we only value the destination
and not the journey that it took to get there.
Had Paul Pierce given up on the Celtics or Dirk Nowitzki on the
Mavericks, neither would’ve won a championship (or Finals MVP) with
the only franchise they’d known to that point.
Had Devin Booker listened to the outside noise and pouted until
he got a trade to a surefire contender, he would’ve never known the
joy, fulfillment or feeling of completion that comes with watching
an organization go from seeds in the dirt to a thriving garden.
And let’s take a lesson from the experiences of Booker, Pierce
and Nowitzki — in the NBA, as long as you have hope and building
blocks, the addition of the right player or two can turn the tides
in a tremendous way. You need many things to win a championship,
including good fortune. And you simply never know when, like Chris
Paul, it’ll be your time to shine in the Sun.
Indeed, like Anthony Davis and James Harden, Damian Lillard may
one day decide that he’s given all that he can to Portland. But
only he knows how much gas is left in his tank and how much tread
is left on his tires.
In a world where we’ve seen far too many opt for the
get-rich-quick scheme, Lillard has decided that he doesn’t want
that to be his legacy. Nobody could ever charge him with taking any
Through it all, he remains dedicated. It’s a great example to
set for younger players, and a positive for both the NBA and the
Portland Trail Blazers.
Without taking it himself, Lillard has learned an important
lesson about taking the easy road in the NBA. There are some things
more meaningful than taking the path of least resistance.