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Damian Lillard Cut from Team USA: The Fallout

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A Blazers fan is pretty steams about Damian Lillard getting cut from Team USA. Another wants to recreate the promise of the Aldridge-Roy-Oden regime. We deal with both topics in the Blazersedge.com Mailbag!

Monday Mail Call ahead!

Dave,

Just heard about Damian Lillard "not being selected for the final 12 man USA roster"... When is the nation going to start a revolt?No way is D-Rose or Kyrie a better "fit" for team USA. And I get the need for more big men but Mason [ed. Mason's middle name redacted here cuz I'm not sure it's the one his mama gave him] Plumlee!? Give me a break!

Sincerely,
Spain's new #1 fan

I get it. Life would have been more fun with Dame in the fold. And you're correct...it's hard to draw hard and fast statistical differences between Lillard and Irving, hard to judge the impact of Rose's injuries, near impossible to compare merits between players of different positions. As you say, it all comes down to "fit". That leaves beauty in the eye of the beholder. The beholders that run USA Basketball deemed Irving, Rose, and a host of bigs more desirable than Portland's point guard prodigy. We can argue all day, making valid points on either side. Nothing is going to change that decision.

Let's put this in perspective, though. Lillard was the 13th player on a 12-man roster, making the cut sting more than usual. But that number is illusory. Had LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and Chris Paul suited up, we're not having this conversation right now. In that lineup Lillard goes from Bubble Guy to the 18th man in camp. Under those circumstances we'd be happy he was invited in the first place. That's likely the proper approach now.

Whether Lillard made this incarnation of Team USA or not has little bearing on his future. Rudy Gay and Mason Plumlee aren't going to skyrocket because they're headed to Spain. Lillard's star won't fall because he went home. He's still in the process, still part of the national system, and he'll get more chances.

I promise you the following is not sour grapes. I would have said it even had Lillard won the Basketball World Cup MVP. Other than the patriotic honor and some of the things mentioned in this article, how much does this event matter anyway? What the players do for their NBA clubs will weigh a thousand times more than what they do in any international tournament.

Will Damian Lillard improve his game this year? Will the Trail Blazers earn more wins and advance farther in the playoffs? Is that elusive World Championship (the NBA version) getting closer? If these questions get a "Yes", Lillard getting cut from Team USA hardly matters. If the response is "No" then no amount of international glory will replace that lack.

Intangibles like public acclaim, precedence, and respect matter more when you're not winning than when you are. Ask Oklahoma City fans if they want Kevin Durant playing overseas this month despite his fatigue. You won't be able to repeat the words they put before their "No!" without blushing. Why? Because they expect their team to be contending for a title next spring. Everything else is just a footnote.

We'd all love to see Damian Lillard working towards surviving the cut and getting onto Team USA. Even more, though, I'd love to see Damian Lillard working towards a time when that doesn't matter...a time when he's flashing so much jewelry on his fingers that his inclusion is a forgone conclusion and the choice to play lies in his hands rather than the hands of coaches and managers. We need to look forward to the day when the question isn't, "Can Damian Lillard survive international play?" but, "Can international play survive Damian Lillard?"

Hi Dave,

Recent articles at BlazersEdge made me think what it would have been if Roy-Aldridge-Oden team worked out. That team had all the talent to compete for a championship. it was still one of the youngest team, so I'd think they were flexible financially, too.

When I look at the current squad, they have Lillard and Aldridge. Let's say Lillard and Roy are equal talent wise, they are missing Greg-Oden-size-talent.

How can the Blazers acquire that level of talent?

You've talked about possible trading Aldridge for Joel Embiid, then using the cash you've saved for another superstar. Any other scenarios that you can think of (whether you trade Aldridge or not)? Same type of deals for Andre Drummand, maybe?

I like Aldridge, but I'm not against trading him if that makes the team better.

If incremental improvement is not enough to get them to the promised land, what approaches do you think available to get them there?

Thanks.
-hiro

Short answer: they have to draft that kind of talent or have enough young, coveted players available that they can trade for it. Detroit did the former with Drummond, as Philadelphia did with Embiid. Cleveland just managed the latter with Kevin Love. Portland would be hard-pressed to duplicate either feat.

If you took all Portland's recent draft picks outside of Damian Lillard and stuck them in a juice extractor, you wouldn't come up with enough sweetness to flavor a small glass of water, let alone to swing a major trade. The Blazers have to hope they can steal major talent in the middle and lower levels of the draft. Or they'd need to sneak into an Eric Bledsoe situation, where a star is disgruntled and all but forces a deal. Or they could cut everybody outside of Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum next summer, trying to lure a free agent . None of these options seems promising. The Blazers will be forced to rely on internal development for now, then see what the winds blow their way.

That's not my real reason for running your question, though.

I'm pretty much over the heartbreak of the Oden-Roy-Aldridge nightmare. Yes, we should be in the middle of a decade giving the NBA's best a run for their money. Instead we're celebrating getting to the second round. So be it. I can't conjure wistful dreams of the 2006-07-born dynasty anymore.

But sometimes when I'm staring off into space I do imagine what it'd be like if Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard could play together, fully healthy. It's my current daydream. Somewhere there's a Blazer heaven where this season's squad is struggling against a battery of evil Texas teams. Just when Lillard looks most tired--when the tricks have all been played--out from the tunnel runs #7 in red and white, lining up right next to #0 and nodding. I can just see Lillard nodding back and saying, "Alright. Now we've got this."

(sigh)

Maybe also in that Blazer heaven Arvydas Sabonis puts a giant mitt on Robin Lopez's shoulder and says, "You're still starting, but when you're done I'm going to spell you for a while. Brandon, Dame, Batum, get ready to catch."

(double sigh)

OK, nobody pinch me now. But you can send more Mailbag questions to the address just below. I'll probably get to them when I wake up.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard

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