Nobody wants to admit it, but Stephen A. Smith isn’t always wrong.
Can you win a title if so-and-so is your best player? Can you win one if he’s your second-best player, assuming your best isn’t LeBron James? It’s a swell game to play at the pub (remember those?) when assessing the ultimate value of Player A versus Player B in the annals of basketball history.
What if Damian Lillard is your No. 1 option, does the pub argument end with a Larry O’Brien trophy in Portland? Allow ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to be the first to stand up and say no. And though you’re not crazy if your first instinct is to assume that everything the man says is wrong, Stephen A. is probably correct about this.
Lillard is as much a folk hero as a basketball player at this point. His reputation for show-stopping buzzer-beaters insultingly close to half court is legend. As a rapper, his track record’s longer than a DC-20 aircraft. But we have more than enough evidence before us to suggest that his Portland Trail Blazers just don’t have the extra pinch of class to get over the hump in the ferocious Western Conference and run for an NBA championship.
Not all of this is Lillard’s fault, of course. He can’t play a lick of defense, but neither can CJ McCollum. Jusuf Nurkic’s outrageously poor injury luck is the baddest of bad jokes around Rip City, probably tied with Neil Olshey trading for Hassan Whiteside. And now that Dame is getting all the Dollas thanks to his spiffy supermax contract — he’ll earn over $50 million in a single season before he’s done — the ability for the small-market Blazers to assemble the perfect group around him is vastly limited.
All told, you’ve just got to think that Lillard would be better off on a team with a dynamic two-way wing player with All-NBA credentials sharing the load. Championships in this era are won on the backs of versatile end-to-end destroyers like Kawhi Leonard. LeBron. Kevin Durant. Lillard is not these guys.
Rather, he’s more like Reggie Miller — he boasts a killer jump shot and a style all his own, but he’s just not the guy who’s gonna carry his team to the promised land.
It feels strange to admit this, Stephen A., but when you’re right, you’re right.