You know that feeling of rushing to the new roster posted outside the gym, scanning it for your name, and walking away disappointed? Damian Lillard does. Because it happened to him as a pro, twice, in a six-month span.
Last summer, before the start of his third NBA season, the Portland Trail Blazers point guard was cut from Team USA’s roster in favor of a backcourt featuring Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, DeMarDeRozan, and Derrick Rose.
The news was a head scratcher. The 2013 Rookie of the Year has blossomed into a floor general with keen court vision. And he has become the most clutch player in the league. In his postseason debut last season, Lillard helped catapult the Blazers into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.
Then came this year’s All-Star snub. Lillard is averaging a career-high 21.5 points and 6.3 assists a game, is second in fourth quarter points scored (318), and is the driving force behind Rip City occupying first place in the Northwest Division. So when he wasn’t selected as an All-Star reserve last month, Lillard was up in arms. He admitted that the All-Star exclusion “hurt a little more because I did make Team USA [before final cuts were made].”
Lillard was outspokenly disappointed and felt “really disrespected” upon learning he was left off the star-studded Western Conference squad. “It was like, what do I have to do to make a team, to be recognized for my work?” he said.
But things have a way of working themselves out.
Earlier this month, Lillard was added to the West team as Blake Griffin’s injury replacement. Sure, it would be much better to be selected the first time around. But for Lillard, the whole experience is an important reminder about the basketball grind.
“Hard work pays off, but it doesn’t always mean you’re going to win,” Lillard said. “I’ve always depended on hard work, and it’s worked out for me, but this summer it didn’t. You just have to keep working and keep getting better. And then I almost didn’t make the All-Star team. It’s not always going to work out, but I’m happy it did this time.”
It’s a positive outlook for a player who isn’t interested in being bitter. Lillard is grateful for the opportunity to play in tonight’s game at New York’s Madison Square Garden — even if his name was missing on the original list.
“Regardless of how it came, I felt I had earned the right to be a part of the [All-Star team]. There was nothing for me to gain in acting like I didn’t want be here now because I didn’t get picked right away,” Lillard said. “At the end of the day, I’m here and I’m thankful for that.”
Photo: Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images, Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images