Damian Lillard Talks Confidently About Return, Trail Blazers’ Future

It’s been a lost season for the Trail Blazers, but star guard Damian Lillard seems to think better days are ahead — for both him and the team.Damian Lillard

“I think personally my best is yet to come 100 percent,” Lillard said in an exclusive interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. “This is my first time being able to take a step back and just fully address my development. Over the course of my career, there have always been things that I’ve wanted to correct or get better at, but maybe I had a long season and went into the playoffs and then we had a quick turnaround. Whatever the case may be, I never had this much time to fully break down my game and really challenge myself development-wise.”

Lillard has been sidelined since the start of the New Year with an abdominal injury that required surgery. In his absence, the Blazers traded longtime backcourt-mate CJ McCollum to the Pelicans and gone with a youth movement.

While Lillard has said he wants to stay with the franchise, he clearly understands that he’ll have to be as good as ever for the Blazers to improve on this season. He said is putting in the work to make it happen.

“I’ve had a window of time and opportunity to add to my game and to watch film with my coaches and trainers to really address those things that a lot of times might be uncomfortable,” he told Haynes. “Since I had my surgery in January, I’ll have around 10 months before the start of next season. So me having that amount of time to look in the mirror to address these things and get my body right, we’ll get the most out of it and I’ll be the best version of myself individually.

“And I also think we’ve taken some steps back as an organization, obviously with the moves that we’ve made [at the trade deadline]. But we’ve also positioned ourselves to do something that we haven’t been able to do since I’ve been here, which is we’ve opened up money, we got picks, we got a $22 million trade exception, we got a $6 million trade exception, we got the full mid-level, we got the biannual.

“We have an opportunity, and we got flexibility. There are guys we can bring in that can make us a team that can compete for a championship, but we have to execute that.”

He reiterated that winning in Portland remains his primary goal, and he believes it can happen with some more roster moves. And more of Lillard himself.

“That’s the only thing I care about, honestly,” he told Haynes. “It seems like after I announced that I was having surgery, people were like, ‘Oh, he’s 31 and having this done.’ Man, 31 is not old. They act like you’re old when we have guys around the league older than me that are still playing at a high level.

“Also, my game is not based on me playing above the rim. I’m a sniper. I shoot. I got a good step. I can think the game. I can manipulate the game, and I know how to play. My game will age well, and I don’t have a history of injuries. And the one that I just had is not a bad injury to have. I’m going to come back and be fine. Like I said, my best is yet to come.”

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