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One of the major pieces of news coming out of the NBA this week is the backing that Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has given to new coach Chauncey Billups.
Lillard has been pushing Portland’s front office to build a better team, and although there were no major additions to the roster ahead of the 2021-22 season, the Blazers have made some canny additions and retentions to boost their title hopes.
General manager Neil Olshey improved the squad on the margins while still keeping a hold of backcourt mate, C.J. McCollum. Lillard also became empowered under first-year coach Billups, a former NBA player and LA Clippers assistant coach that replaced Terry Stotts after his nine seasons at the helm.
“It was never out of hate or that we don’t like each other,” Lillard explained. “It was just, ‘This is how much I want to win it.’ So, once it was time to come back and I had a conversation with Chauncey and had a conversation with Neil, I’m not going to come back halfhearted. I’m going to come back and be all in.”
Despite a rocky start to the campaign, Lillard has remained bullish that the team can be a championship contender this season: “As long as we buy-in,” he said, “we could look like a completely different team on both ends of the floor.”
Lillard stressed that he enjoyed playing for Stotts, which coincided with the Blazers cementing the longest active NBA streak in consecutive playoff appearances (eight) and making one appearance in the Western Conference finals (2018). Nonetheless, Lillard has become enamored with Billups’ credentials.
This includes a 17-year NBA career, making five All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams. He won Finals MVP after leading the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA title over the heavily-favored Los Angeles Lakers. And he spent the previous season as the Clippers’ lead assistant coach.
“You can tell with his mentality and his style, it was similar to his playing career,” Lillard said of Billups. “You can tell with the detail, his approach, and just how hard he’s hammering certain things home.”
Billups himself added, “I feel like I’m somebody that can help him [Lillard]. I’ve been in his shoes before. He wants to win. He’s a winner. He has a winning spirit, and all he cares about is doing it the right way. I can relate to that.”
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Catch the following NBA games lives on ESPN this week
All times CAT
Saturday 6 November
01:30: NBA Regular Season, Milwaukee Bucks v New York Knicks – LIVE on ESPN 2
04:00: NBA Regular Season, Golden State Warriors v New Orleans Pelicans – LIVE on ESPN 2
Sunday 7 November
22:30: NBA Regular Season, Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets – LIVE on ESPN