Former NBA sharpshooter JR Smith is apparently not impressed with Damian Lillard’s commitment to the Trailblazers. Some in the media have praised the all-NBA point guard for his loyalty rather than running to a major market contender, but Smith is taking this choice as Lillard not caring about winning. Or caring about money (you decide).
He joined the No Chill podcast with Gilbert Arenas to discuss the matter in detail.
“I love Dame. I love his game and I respect him for doing what he’s doing, but at the same time…you’re just gonna rot in Portland, bro? You are unbelievable. ‘Get me a bucket’…he gonna get it. And he’s shown us he’s gonna play hard as hell…but bruh. I’m not about to rot in D.C,” Smith said. “My career — I’m trying to win, bro.” Doesn’t sound like he really respects what he’s doing, then.
Gilbert Arenas brings up money asking “what about that 250,” alluding to the contractual benefits to staying put in Portland. JR Smith then compared the money Dame received in Portland to what he could’ve signed for elsewhere. A fair take because it’s not like Lillard would give up every penny — it’d be more of a discount for an opportunity to win. A trade-off LeBron James and Kevin Durant made years back that rarely anyone discusses.
"Are you just going to rot in Portland?"
Gilbert Arenas, @TheRealJRSmith & @KingJosiah54 are all HUGE fans of Damian Lillard, but with the pressure to win a ring in order to be called "great," what's his move? Watch here: https://t.co/L4iQ4pWeoq pic.twitter.com/dgzlveilJf
— fubo Sports (@fuboSports) July 25, 2022
Aside from his Flamin’ Hot Cheetos hairdo that makes us not want to take him seriously, JR Smith has a fair point here that’s widely misunderstood around the NBA. Players in this sport, more than any other, are criticized or praised for their ability to hoist a title at year’s end. Whether a player is stuck on a mediocre team or fell short with a choke job in the Finals, all players that fail to win are treated as less than.
Unaccomplished, incomplete and overall squandered potential.
A lot of this coverage is unfair and it’s the type of treatment that possessed LeBron James to ditch the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2010 for Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat. James was fried by the media for cheating the grind and teeing up a NBA championship. Had he stayed, he may have never won a title, and he’d be grilled for it just as Damian Lillard is now.
But perhaps all NBA players owe to a team is to do everything they can to help a franchise win until they recognize there’s nothing left to do? It’s perfectly clear that the Blazers aren’t some brilliant Dame Lillard playoff performance away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy — Lillard is quite literally set to be the third-highest paid player in NBA history that no longer has any opportunity, barring some monstrous trade, to win a championship. That stinks. Not just for Dame, but for basketball fans that know his skills deserve to be mentioned along with some of the greatest point guards to ever play.
JR Smith is right. Damian Lillard is going to rot in Portland. It is possible, however, that all players don’t view championships as career-defining accomplishments. Isn’t it possible that Dame sees a championship as more of an opportunity afforded to players through front office expertise? Not necessarily in his control to win in Portland, but more of a team effort? No one sees Jordan’s six titles with the Bulls as a team accomplishment or LeBron’s four titles in Miami, Cleveland and Los Angeles. Fans of the NBA see six (titles) vs four. As if all things were accomplished on an even playing field. It’s unfair and the reason why Damian Lillard is asked to bail on the Trailblazers every offseason.
Maybe fans of basketball shouldn’t have treated players like Charles Barkley like they weren’t championship players just because they didn’t win? Because it might force all players to run from loyalty — even the most old-school players we have in the sport today might go looking for that approval.