Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Knicks already calling about Damian Lillard after Blazers’ frustrating playoff exit

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On April 30th, The Post reported the Knicks will monitor superstar point guard Damian Lillard’s situation in Portland this offseason.

The monitoring has begun – big time.

Soon after Lillard’s Trail Blazers were eliminated in the playoffs Wednesday night by Denver in six games, the former Weber State point guard posted a cryptic Instagram, citing lyrics from rapper Nipsey Hussle.

“How long should I stay dedicated? How long til opportunity meet preparation?”

The post came after Lillard’s press conference, in which he sounded despondent with the status quo after another first-round ouster in Portland.

“We didn’t win a championship, so obviously where we are now isn’t good enough,” Lillard said. “I don’t know what a shakeup looks like, or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously as it is wasn’t good enough.

“We came up a short against a team without their starting point guard and their shooting guard. Will Barton didn’t play and Jamal Murray didn’t play and we came up short. Obviously, where we are isn’t good enough to win a championship if it’s not good enough to get out of a first-round series with two of their best three, four players not on the floor.’’

Damian Lillard reacts after shooting a three during Game 6 against Denver.
Damian Lillard reacts after shooting a three during Game 6 against Denver.
Getty Images

“The only thing I was concerned with was coming into this playoff and making a strong push,’’ Lillard added. “To come up short in the first round and the season to end on our home floor is disappointing. That’s as far as I am with it now. I’m not thinking about the other s–t – the change or whatever.”

Clearly, NBA teams have seen this as an opening. Stephen A. Smith revealed on ESPN’s “First Take” Friday that “six or seven” teams have already called the Blazers to inquire about Lillard’s services. One of them was the Knicks, along with the Heat and Clippers.

Lillard has three guaranteed years left on his contract, and stands to make $43 million next season.

The key to the Knicks’ potential Lillard bid is their assistant coach, Johnnie Bryant, who is close to the star point guard and is one of his mentors from Oakland. Bryant is a former Jazz assistant who joined Thibodeau’s staff in 2020.

“That’s my big brother,’’ Lillard said in 2017 of Bryant. “I remember barely being in the seventh grade, getting ready for an AAU tournament, and Johnnie was in college at Utah, and they would come back and scrimmage us on outside courts with no net.’’

The Knicks also have a trove of draft picks – five over the next three drafts – and cap space to make a trade easier. Their young trade chips include Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, though after the Atlanta series exposed them at center the Knicks may be less eager to move Robinson.

With the Knicks desperate for a starting point guard and a superstar after their five-game ouster to Atlanta, Lillard fits both categories. The Knicks are likely willing to add three first-round picks to a deal.

Eyebrows were raised last month over a Chris Haynes article on Yahoo that sounded as if Lillard was losing patience with the Blazers. (Haynes is regarded as being close to Lillard.)

“No one has ever questioned the fight in Lillard,’’ Haynes wrote. “But it is fair to ask if he’s been fighting the good fight alone?

“Simply put, Lillard has not received the help he needs to win a title in this era. As he turns 31 this summer and considering all he’s done for the franchise, a more aggressive, risky approach is needed in order to pair him with another bona fide star.’’

Lillard denied the next day he put up Haynes to write the piece, but acknowledged they are close.



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