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Damian Lillard's loyalty has become a point of contention for people who play and follow the game, and I'm not buying it.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The Blazers' Damian Lillard against the Chicago Bulls.

It's been roughly three weeks since Damian Lillard signed his contract extension with Portland. The all-star guard and the Trail Blazers franchise agreed to a two-year, $122 million deal to go on top of the four-year, $176 million contract he signed following the 2020 season.

The deal locks arguably the franchise's greatest player up through the 2026-27 season and further demonstrates the standout's desire to stay and win in the Rose City. But despite what can only be viewed as a refreshingly old school attitude, the new guard of NBA player and analyst sees things differently — and it's ridiculous.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. That's the NBA world in which we presently live.

Damian Lillard has done everything right in his NBA career. He's won games, made big plays in the biggest of moments, led both vocally and by example, and committed to a city and franchise that in turn has invested in him.

RELATED STORY: Lillard opens up about his injury last season at annual camp in Beaverton

He doesn't get in trouble with the law, is married with kids, and is active in the community by way of financial and time commitments. In an era of player empowerment, one which sees superstar players leaving or asking out of cities, teams and contracts at a break-neck pace, Portland's superstar has chosen to do the work rather than run from it, and build his own team rather than join another's.

That's not dumb, lazy or weak-minded like some have suggested, but rather admirable and worthy of celebration.

Last week, J.R. Smith, an NBA journeyman who twice won championships on the coattails of LeBron James, chastised Lillard in the wake of his contract extension, saying he's "going to rot in Portland" and questioned his desire to win. He goes on to assert that the decision has to be the reflection of complacency and a disinterest in ultimately hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Earlier in the week, everybody's favorite contrarian Skip Bayless also took shots at Lillard.

"I just believe Damian Lillard is completely content being a very big fish in a pretty small pond," Bayless said. "I can't even begin to criticize him for staying put and milking this NBA system for all it's worth."

That's not even a backhanded compliment, but just another shot at the character of a guy who's doing it all right.

Emmanuel Acho of Fox Sports also got loose on Lillard.

"Damian Lillard is going to make $258 million over the next 5 years from age 32 to age 37, knowing the Blazers have no expectations of winning, and he himself has no expectations to win. If you want to talk about the 'easy way out', what way out is 'easier' than a place of no expectations but exponential money?"



Huh?

Have you read or heard anything Damian Lillard has had to say over the past decade?

Do you know what he's about?

Say what you will about Damian Lillard, but what you do say should have nothing to do with his will to win.

Dame is all about the grind. No one wants to win more than him and if the question is who has winning expectations and/or who believes Portland is capable of winning an NBA title in the next three-to-five years? It may not be me, it may not be Skip Bayless, J.R. Smith or Emmanuel Acho, but I assure you it's Lillard, because if it weren't he wouldn't have signed.

This guy believes. He's not taking the easy way out, he's choosing the path which offers him the greatest reward.

Lillard isn't part of the new breed. You know, the guys that have come to believe the best means of winning is to stack the deck and that winning is winning regardless of the circumstances surrounding it.

LeBron James lost for nine years before winning a title and in order to do so had to "take his talents" and those of two other all-stars to Miami, creating a competitive advantage over the rest of the league and having to merely to stay out of their own way to secure a league title. He did the same thing in Cleveland upon his return four years later, joining Kyrie Irving and bringing in Kevin Love, then again contrived a similar scenario in Los Angeles with Anthony Davis.

RELATED STORY: Rested and recovered, what can the Blazers expect of Lillard this season?

Yes, he won in all three destinations as a result of tilting the NBA's competitive balance, but tell me how that's representative of a struggle, while doing more with less, in a second-rate NBA market, and in an effort to earn what James, Kevin Durant, and J.R. Smith — to name a few — were given by having "more" is considered the easier of the two options?

Damian Lillard wants to win. He's said as much. But he wants it to mean something when he does and doing it in Portland would meet that expectation. He's said that too — many times. So, while people in and around the league whine and complain about his desire to finish what he started 10 years ago, don't buy what they're selling. This isn't about the player, but rather about the game that's become more about chasing a title than earning one.

One of the two is worthy of respect, the other is the easy way out. I think you know where I stand.


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