When the Portland Trail Blazers signed Damian Lillard to a super-max deal they showed where their future lay. Do injury concerns make this a mistake?
When the Portland Trail Blazers signed Damian Lillard to a supermax contract extension in 2019, they signaled where their future lay. The $227 million deal kicks in at the start of the 2021-22 season, and as things currently stand, only CJ McCollum will be under contract at this time.
This means the Trail Blazers have put a large portion of their eggs in the Lillard basket. While he is on the court, this looks to be a tremendous decision. With Lillard going home early, leaving the NBA bubble thanks to a knee injury, this brings to the forefront the danger of this contract.
Sometimes teams are able to replace the production of bigger contract players when they are out with injury but this is not the case for the Trail Blazers. Lillard is so integral for the Blazers structure and systems that should he go down, he would be almost impossible to replace.
Have the Portland Trail Blazers made a mistake?
It is easy to look at the salary cap report of the Portland Trail Blazers and say they made a huge mistake by signing Lillard to such a large deal over such a long period of time. The supermax does not come into effect until after his 31st birthday.
This means that he will enter the final year of his contract, which is worth $54 million as a 36-year-old. While this is not ideal, Lillard is the type of player who could make this work. Look at Chris Paul with the OKC Thunder. He is 35 with two years left on his own massive deal and is balling out.
The difference here is that the Thunder have Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who can run the point should Paul suffer an injury. The Trail Blazers have no true backup point guard should Lillard get hurt for any period of time.
20-20 hindsight is a tremendous thing and when the ramifications of COVID-19 will be felt for a number of years. The impact of the loss of income on the salary cap may hurt the Trail Blazers even more.
Lillard has been reliable in his eight years in the league. He has four seasons where he has played 80 games or more, three of these seasons he played all 82 games. Lillard has also two seasons where he has played 75 games and one where he has played 73.
This season Lillard played 66 of a possible 74 games, so on current data, the contract looks good. However, Lillard is currently under 30 and has had a massive workload being in the top 20 in the NBA in seven of his eight seasons for minutes played. He was top ten in five of those seasons.
This translates to all eight of his seasons being in the top 20 for minutes per game. He is in fact third active in this metric and 36th all-time. This is a lot of pressure to put on your body prior to your 30th birthday.
For the sake of the Portland Trail Blazers, let us hope that Damian Lillard continues to have a body that does not break down. If not, then there could be some serious issues for the franchise moving forward as their franchise cornerstone ages.