There are many indicators of Damian Lillard's loyalty to the Trail Blazers, but maybe none more telling than his longtime refusal to criticize the organization in public – an increasingly rare approach for a modern-day superstar. He still hasn't condemned Portland out in the open for failing to put a championship-caliber supporting cast alongside him, either.
But reading the tea leaves of Chris Haynes' inflammatory story at Yahoo Sports about the Blazers' big-picture shortcomings amid Lillard's prime, it was almost impossible not to believe he'd influenced Haynes' take – despite the article's only sourced intel being Lillard's list of injuries.
NBC Sports Northwest's Dwight Jaynes asked Lillard his response to the story on Friday following Portland's convincing win over the Brooklyn Nets, his first game scoring 30 or more points since April 2nd. Lillard, to be clear, expressed no ill will toward Haynes, a longtime friend. He also didn't exactly disown the story altogether.
"I can't expect him to not do his job," Lillard said of Haynes. "But I know because of our relationship that people would assume I was tied to the story, you know? I think that was the only thing that bothered me about it."
Lillard lightly pushed back on the notion that he'd air his dirty laundry with the franchise in public, though. Why go to those lengths, especially anonymously, if he has an open-door policy with Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts?
"I lean on the fact that me and Neil, if we have a conversation, I know I that can go into his office and walk into that door and tell him whatever I think, and we've had those conversations. Same with Terry."
Lillard eventually copped to being frustrated with Portland's disappointing season, too, like Haynes suggested in the story. But as he tells it, Lillard has been broadcasting his thoughts on the Blazers' struggles to the media all season, just as he honestly answers other prompts from reporters.
"People know who I am. I think even with you guys, you guys ask me a question, I answer it," he said. "I tell you what I think, I say how I feel. Most importantly, behind closed doors, the same goes for people in our building...Obviously, it was no secret. I mentioned it to you guys in Utah – it's been frustrating."
That's the thing about Haynes' story: What information or even opinion did it include that a discerning Blazers follower couldn't have gleaned by themselves?
It's long been safe to assume that Lillard, while still fully committed to Portland, would be displeased with recent efforts to upgrade the roster around him. The Blazers still aren't closer to true title contention than they've been at any other point in his tenure, and Lillard is officially on the downside of his prime.
Whether Lillard spoke directly with Haynes or not before the story was published is irrelevant. He clearly has no interest in saying for sure either way. What definitely matters, though, is what's been abundantly clear for years: Lillard wants a championship, and any expectation Portland has a realistic shot at winning one with this current core in place is wildly optimistic.
Unless Lillard goes fully on the record admitting as much and demanding wholesale changes, this is all just fodder in advance of an offseason where they'll surely be coming regardless.