Many thought Damian Lillard’s days in Portland were numbered, but he stayed to prove his loyalty. However, a young player is on the rise, and he could force the Trail Blazers to finally make a crucial decision on Lillard’s future.
Anfernee Simons shows he’s ready
Anfernee Simons’ progress was fast-tracked this season. He transformed from a bench player to a starter to a candidate for Most Improved Player. A quick look on his Basketball-Reference page tells us he went from averaging 7.8 points last year to 14.1 points this season. Not only that, but he also improved his numbers on rebounds, FT shooting, assists, and steals.
The present situation required players stepping up, and Simons answered the call. He’s been playing career-high in minutes, and he shows what he can do on the floor. In their game against the Brooklyn Nets, where Portland surprisingly won without All-Star Damian Lillard, Anfernee displayed composure and leadership often expected from the heavy hitters like Dame or CJ McCollum.
As Basketball News reported, the 4th year guard hiked his production as a starter but took everything to another level in 2022:
Starter numbers: 20.9 points (58/41/96 split), 3.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists (2.1 turnovers) in 32.4 minutes.
2022 stats: 27.8 points (61/45/95 split), 3.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists (2.8 turnovers) in 37.0 minutes.
After showing star potential versus Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Simons showed confidence in his postgame interview, where he boldly claimed things would only get better for him moving forward.
This is something every Portland Trail Blazers fan wants to hear. If he continues his progress, it could force the front office to make some drastic moves regarding Lillard.
It’s time to cash in on Dame
Damian Lillard is sidelined due to an abdominal injury, and he hasn't played in any games so far in 2022. It’s time for Portland to make the unpopular decision to finally look for trade partners for their All-Star guard.
Dame almost joined the Lakers after LeBron James tried to recruit him in the summer. However, his loyalty trumped the desire to chase a ring. Lillard stayed, but Simons is making a case that there’s no more reason for him to stay.
If Lillard leaves, there will be little to no backlash from fans. The guy tried his best to bring a title to the city, and he deserved to get a chance to win one before retiring. At 31 years old, Dame’s time to win a title is dwindling. The Trail Blazers should entertain trade talks now and cash in on the shooting guard while he still has some value left.
The Oakland native’s current contract is until 2025. The rebuilding Portland and Dame know they can’t wait it out with no ring to show for him and the franchise. Lillard should probably thank Simons for his fine play because he could finally move away in peace knowing there is someone who could take his place and take good care of the team he played for his entire NBA career.