Sports Take: Some NBA players should jump ship for sake of legacy

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, center, is defended by Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

Basketball is a team game, no doubt about it. Sometimes, no matter how good an individual player is, not being on the right team or in the right situation will limit their potential and legacy. As players get older, they can’t be carrying teams to bottom-playoff seeds just to get bounced early and never be true contenders. Sometimes they need a change of scenery. It might hurt their legacy a bit for “ring chasing,” but not as much as it will hurt if they end up without a championship on their resume.

I’m all for remaining loyal and sticking it out with the team that drafted you to win with them. We saw it with Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and more recently with Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, not everyone is on the level of those players, nor do they have situations that allow them to be as successful.

The first player — who I believe needs to get out of their situation — is none other than Damian Lillard. Lillard is a great talent who has never won anything, which I attribute to the Portland Trail Blazers’ inability to build around him and give him the support needed to contend. Outside of a Rookie of the Year award and some All-Star appearances Lillard has yet to accomplish any major accolades. Despite averaging over 25 points per game in the playoffs, his teams are often bounced early on in the postseason. Last season Lillard averaged 34.3 points per game and 10.2 assists yet all he had to show for it was a first round exit. Even in 2019 when the Trailblazers made the Western Conference Finals, no one saw them as serious contenders and it was proven true as they were swept and sent home in just four games.

Lillard has spoken on whether or not he wants to leave Portland on multiple occasions, often saying he wants to stay. A few days ago, he did a freestyle for a radio station where he raps that he wouldn’t jump ship. However, he has left the door open by adding comments such as “Not right now at least,” after saying he isn’t leaving. This past summer, Lillard said he wasn’t firm on his future as he was frustrated with the organization, saying it needed change.

Another player who might need to leave their situation is Bradley Beal. Although he’s only 28, Beal has never been a part of a championship-contending team with the Washington Wizards and it doesn’t look like he will be any time soon. The Wizards are currently 5-1, with new additions like Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell, and the team is looking surprisingly good this season. That being said, we’re only six games into the season and it’s too early to tell the team’s trajectory, but I still don’t see them as a team that can win a title. Similar to Lillard, Beal often loses in the first round, but has never made a Conference Finals before. Beal has averaged 30 points or more in two consecutive seasons, yet has gotten nothing in return for it. Beal said he has no desire to leave the Wizards, however that’s something I think he should reconsider.

If these players were playing in big-market cities, like Los Angeles, New York or Miami, it would be different, as other star players are often attracted there. Big free agents have never expressed any interest in going to small-market teams like Portland or Washington. We have seen multiple players leaving situations such as this for better opportunities in the past and finding success. LeBron James left the terrible Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, which led to James winning his first championship. From that win, James’ legacy was propelled to new heights, despite being seen as a villain for a period of time. The same thing happened to Kevin Durant after he joined the Golden State Warriors and won back-to-back rings and Finals MVPs.

I understand the desire to want to remain loyal and tough it out with a team, but at the end of the day, it’s a business. The moment a player’s worth is on the decline, a team will trade them for draft picks. If the organization is not doing their job and putting the necessary pieces together, then a player should leave for a better situation. I would rather win a ring on a stacked team than finish my career without a championship and be forgotten in history along with the team that drafted me.