While Russell Westbrook was the star acquisition of the summer, the Lakers undoubtedly had their eyes on someone much bigger. Their pursuit of Damian Lillard was reported on earlier this summer but there’s no better confirmation than straight from the source, which Lillard provided on Wednesday.
In a bit of a tell-all interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Lillard spoke about a lunch he had with James and Davis this summer that definitely wasn’t a recruiting meeting.
While in Los Angeles to shoot a music video, Lillard stopped by a WNBA game that James also happened to be attending. Eventually, James invited Lillard over for lunch at his mansion where Davis and James definitely didn’t recruit Lillard to the Lakers.
From Haynes report:
Lillard did not categorize the meeting as a platform for a recruiting presentation, but rather an information-gathering forum among respected peers.
“’Bron asked what I was thinking with my situation, and I told him what I’m telling you: that I just want to be in a position to win it all,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “He painted the picture to me that if I were to leave, the situation could look like this. He didn’t tell me to come to L.A., and he didn’t say anything to me that I didn’t already know other than what it could look like. I told him, ‘I know if I were to play with y’all, I know it would work out because of my skill set,’ and who I am and who they are.”
Lillard expressed his hesitancy to join any iteration of a super-team.
“I was just saying, I don’t know if this is the route I wanted to go,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “And that was pretty much how the conversation went.”
The meeting lasted for an hour and a half.
Yes, clearly not Lillard being recruited. Some impressive word gymnastics to avoid calling it recruiting.
In late July, a report from Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report indicated the Lakers first went after Lillard before moving forward in acquiring Westbrook. The hopes of acquiring him were considered “unrealistic” but he was still part of a Plan A that also included Bradley Beal as a potential option. Eventually. James and the Lakers turned to Plan B, which included Westbrook.
Clearly, the Lakers did not land Lillard with the superstar never truly pushing for a trade, even as unrealistic as it would have been for the Lakers to acquire him. In the piece, Haynes notes that was “no way Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey would ever trade Lillard to the Lakers.”
But Lillard’s backtracking never allowed the situation to get to that point.
“The whole time I knew I was a Trail Blazer, but obviously coming off that playoff loss, I was like, ‘We got to do something to show we’re actually trying to win it,’ ” Lillard told Yahoo Sports of his conversation with management. “There are so many teams in the league where some want to tank; some teams just want to be a playoff team and see if they can make things interesting; and then there are a few teams with the mindset of winning a championship.
“So for me, I was in that position where I was wondering if we’re actually trying to win a championship. I want to be a part of something where winning a title is everybody’s mission. I was asking my team, ‘Is that what we’re really trying to do? What are we doing to show that’s what we really want?’ Those were my questions, and I presented them that way. Like, ‘What are we doing? How are we honestly saying we want to win it all? What steps are we taking?’ I just had a decision to make.”
The pieces would not have worked last season in a trade, but on paper, a Westbrook-Lillard swap would work this upcoming summer. It’s not enough to complete a deal but it’s further than a trade package would have gotten the Lakers this past summer.
It all remains highly unlikely, but as we’ve seen in the past, if a player makes up their mind to get to a specific franchise, they almost always land there. But, in this instance, that would require Lillard to be recruited which definitely hasn’t happened yet.