Damian Lillard says he will refuse to play if NBA gives Blazers no path to playoffs
The NBA is exploring a number of potential formats for when the 2019-20 season resumes, and Damian Lillard says he will refuse to partake in games if the plan does not give the Portland Trail Blazers a fair shot to reach the playoffs.
One possibility the NBA is considering is to jump straight into the postseason, which would eliminate Portland. The Blazers are currently in 9th place in the Western Conference and 3.5 games back of the 8th-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Another scenario that has been mentioned is playing a handful more games so all teams reach 70, which would allow them to fulfill regional television deals. If the league opts for the latter, Lillard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports he will refuse to play.
“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. But I’m not going to be participating,” Lillard said. “I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there.”
Lillard said he will show up to work and take part in practices with the Blazers, but he has no interest in playing another four meaningless games after such a long layoff. He’d love an opportunity to finish the entire season and have a shot to reach the playoffs with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins due back from injuries, but he does not want to simply go through the motions so the NBA can fulfill the terms of its TV contracts.
“I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone. 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.”
If the Blazers were somehow able to sneak into the postseason, they could be set up for a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Lillard believes Portland could be competitive in that series and entertain fans. He added that he has remained in shape but will consider that a head start in his summer training if the Blazers aren’t given a legitimate opportunity to compete.
While it would be a bold statement to sit out, Lillard can’t be the only player who feels that way. That is one of the issues the NBA has to juggle, as coming back for only a few regular season games would seem completely meaningless to teams that aren’t going to be included in the playoffs.
A survey the NBA recently distributed to executives listed several potential formats the league could follow when play resumes, and a play-in tournament was among them. That would likely be something that interests Lillard and others.