Lillard begins a pivotal season with the Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Despite all the criticism this summer about Damian Lillard’s happiness in Portland, the Trail Blazers goaltender is sticking around, hoping the team’s moves pay off.

The most important thing, of course, was parting ways with coach Terry Stotts after nine seasons. Portland has hired Chauncey Billups, who has no previous experience as an NBA head coach.

Lillard’s core, goalie CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic remain intact, but Portland has strengthened the roster with the addition of Larry Nance Jr., Cody Zeller and Ben McLemore. Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter moved on.

While the team haven’t made any flashy offseason deal, Lillard believes the Blazers are in a better place,

“Obviously at the end of last season I wanted to see our roster improve, I wanted us to have a better chance of winning,” said Lillard. “And we’ve had our conversations throughout the summer about what it looked like and how we might take steps in that direction, and I’m going into this season with faith that it’s going to happen and we’re going to do it. to do.”

Portland finished 42-30 last season and won the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The team have won 10 of their last 12 regular season games, but the playoffs ended quickly with Denver knocking out the Blazers in the first round.

Lillard is entering his 10th NBA season. The closest he got to a title was a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2019.

He ranked third in the NBA with an average of 28.8 points last season and was in the top 10 with 7.5 assists. But this may be Portland’s last season with its All-Star and Olympian, unless the team gets results.

“I think we all know we have to get over the bump,” Nurkic said.

THE OPPORTUNITY OF ANFERNEE

Portland has made no move for a proven backup point guard during the offseason, an issue that has plagued the Blazers in recent years. McCollum sometimes assumed these functions.

Anfernee Simons, entering her fourth year in the NBA, is looking to fill the role.

When Lillard was off duty in a preseason game against the Sacramento Kings, Simons scored 24 points.

“He continued to improve and stay aggressive. I want him to always be confident, ”Billups said. “Even some nights these hits won’t fall off, just him being aggressive and getting places he wants to go and play some game.”

MORE INVOLVED

Nurkic is excited to take on a bigger attacking role this season.

Nurkic was frustrated with the way he had been used last season under Stotts, who was relying on him defensively. Nurkic averaged 11.5 points and nine rebounds last season, but missed out on time with a broken wrist.

Billups told Nurkic during the offseason that he would expand his presence on both ends. “I’m personally looking for a big year for myself and the team,” Nurkic said.

VACCINATION STATUS

The Blazers are 100% vaccinated among players and technical staff. Lillard said when the vaccines became available he wanted to line up his whole family for the shot.

“I have a lot of people in my family who I’m close with and spend a lot of time with, and I’m just not going to put their health or their lives at risk because I have to do some research,” said Lillard. noted. “As a child, I had to get vaccinated all my life, before going to university, I had to get vaccinated. And I couldn’t tell you anything about any of them.

FRAUD CASE

Trail Blazers assistant coach Milt Palacio was among 18 former NBA players who were charged in federal court this month with defrauding the league’s health and welfare benefit plan . Authorities said the scam consisted of claiming fictitious medical and dental bills.

As a result, Palacio was put on administrative leave by the Blazers.

“The federal investigation is independent of the Trail Blazers organization and we will have no further comment pending the outcome of the legal process,” the team said.

Former Trail Blazers Sebastian Telfair, Darius Miles and Ruben Patterson have also been charged.

BUSY OFF-SEASON

The Blazers’ backcourt did not rest during the offseason.

Lillard married his college sweetheart, won an Olympic gold medal, and released new music. Not to be outdone, CJ McCollum announced that he and his wife were expecting their first child, bought a cellar and that he was named president of the NBA Players Association.

Lillard brought his gold medal to the team’s annual media day, asking if he should pass it on to reporters in attendance. Then he quickly changed his mind: “You can’t touch my medal.

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