Damian Lillard said it immediately after his team was eliminated from the playoffs by the short-handed Denver Nuggets, and reiterated it again once his obvious frustration boiled over into public view a few weeks later.
The Trail Blazers' core, as was and remains constructed, isn't good enough to win a championship.
As the dust settles on free agency and prospective trade winds die down with the regular season fast approaching, there's no indication Lillard suddenly believes otherwise. Just because he's committed to Portland for 2021-22 hardly means Lillard is back to believing he'll play his entire career in Rip City. All recent reporting on his mindset, in fact, suggests Lillard will play out the season with the Blazers before revisiting the prospect of a trade demand next summer.
During an interview with Pierce Simpson of Complex focusing on the release of his fourth studio album as rapper Dame D.O.L.L.A., Lillard candidly discussed his status with Portland, restating much of what he said publicly throughout the offseason about the team's need to "do better."
Those calls for roster upgrades don't stem from Lillard's outright desire to leave the Blazers, though. He still wants to win a title in Portland. But if the Blazers aren't ready to meet his pointed sense of urgency, Lillard, now 31, simply believes it could be time for him to move on.
Lillard: "I've always said I want to play in Portland, I want to win in Portland, and I still feel that way. So if I'm saying we gotta do better, we gotta give ourselves a real chance. If we can't get out the first round as we are, we gotta better."
Simpson: "It comes from the standpoint of you being fully invested."
Lillard: "Exactly, not from the standpoint of I'm threatening y'all. But, it was like, if it comes down to me having to move on and do something different, then maybe that's what I have to do. But it was like, 'I haven't made that decision.' But the fact remains I would like to win a championship in Portland."
Lillard once again pushed back on reports that he was ever prepared to request a trade this summer, too.
As Lillard sees it, his stark deviation from longtime plans to retire in Portland created a league-wide feedback loop that inaccurately informed the media's coverage of his thinking.
"I think people have never heard that tone from me, so it was like, this is the opportunity to be like, 'You should leave. How bad do you want to win? You should go to this team. You should do that,'" Lillard said. "And then, that opens up the door for people to be like, 'Well, I heard that he's gonna ask for a trade in two days.' So for the media, it's like clickbait or how you're gonna get your views up, so it's like they're gonna run with the story."
TrueHoop's report about Lillard imminently forcing his way from the Blazers, obviously, turned out to be false. Still, the possibility exists that the greatest player in franchise history will leave Portland in the foreseeable future.
At least Rip City could take collective solace in the fact that it would be Lillard—not inflammatory media talking heads, overzealous competing fan bases or even playing peers across the league—himself who came to that decision, though.
If that time does come, it's gonna be because I decided it was time. It's not gonna be because people who are egging the situation on or people who have an idea of what they think I should do or what they want to see me do made me do it," Lillard said of his potential departure. "Because if I do something else and the grass ain't greener, they're not gonna have to live with the consequences. You know what I'm saying? And they also don't know my family's situation, they don't know nothing going on in my personal life. They don't know why I do what I do, because I'm gonna do what I want to do and what I see fit."