OAKLAND – The DVD of the just-completed game would be dropped off before he left the locker room. Sometimes Damian Lillard would watch later the same night, usually he wouldn’t. Sometimes he would watch on another day, usually he wouldn’t. That went on month after month last season.
In the summer, he had a collection and he had time. Lillard would watch, mostly alone at his home in Portland. And he would cringe.
“In my head, I was kind of embarrassed watching myself,” Lillard told NBA.com.
His defense looked that bad.
“Just to see some of the plays that I could have done a better job on or showed more effort that I gave,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I was doing that.”
He is the reigning Rookie of the Year, a foundation of the promising future of the Trail Blazers… and seeing a big hole in his game. Just as bad, he was hearing about it too. That settled it. Angered, driven and admittedly ashamed, Lillard made improving on defense a priority as he went through offseason workouts.
He wants to see a different player when he watches the post-game DVDs in the future. He wants to not hear the critiques about a point guard with a limitless future offensively and little reason for pride on the other side of the ball.
This is the new Lillard with 2013-14, his second season, days away from opening.
CHICAGO — The most memorable moment of the Chicago Bulls’ 2013 playoff run came at the hands of Nate Robinson. The undersized, occasionally reckless veteran guard exploded for 34 points off the bench to help the Bulls pull off a 142-134 triple-overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 of their first-round series. With Derrick Rose sitting out the whole season and Joakim Noah playing through a foot injury, someone had to step up. And that savior came in Robinson’s 5-foot-9 frame.
Fast-forward to the eve of the 2013-14 season’s tipoff — Rose is back and looking as good as he ever has, and Robinson has moved on, signing a two-year, $4.1 million contract with the Denver Nuggets. Even though the Bulls opted not to re-sign him, the playoff run will forever hold special meaning for Robinson.
“It’s something special to me,” Robinson said before the Bulls’ 94-89 preseason-closing win against the Nuggets. “It was a special season and a great group of guys, man. And I miss it. I’d be lying to say I didn’t, but the guys over there, they showed me so much love — the coaching staff, the organization, the fans. It was a great run.”
First and foremost, League Pass is the greatest thing to happen to NBA basketball since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird showed up. Seriously, the greatest! I’ll make it a point to find the Portland Trail Blazers every chance I get. Damian Lillard was an absolute baller last season, snagging Rookie of the Year honors and doing so without nearly the fanfare he would have garnered had he played in a bigger media market. It’s one thing to see highlight clips of what he did or to read accounts of it.
Finally, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and Drake linked up for what could be a beautiful business relationship. Drizzy will solidify his ties to his beloved hometown, becoming the Raptors’ official Global Ambassador and consultant as the team prepares to rebrand for its 2014-15 season. It’s been a long time since the glory days of Mr. Half Man, Half Amazing—also known as the Vince Carter era—where the head honcho led the team to multiple playoff appearances. Since his departure, the franchise has seen some dark times, falling into NBA obscurity. But the future is bright, as Mr OVO will help in not only the image but the direction of the franchise. The Raptors are already getting a new logo and new colors, and Drake will help create a clothing line with the team. All of this leads in to the 2016 All-Star Game, which will be hosted in Toronto. So XXL reached out to Raptors DJ Augustin and DeMar DeRozan on their feelings about their new Global Ambassador and the future of The Raptors. Nothing will be the same.
XXL: How do you feel about Drake being named Global Ambassador for The Raptors?
DeMar DeRozan: Me personally, I definitely think it’s a dope situation with Drake being one of the best in the game, arguably, at what he does. Especially in Toronto and the country of Canada, there’s no better person you can put in the position.
What were your initial thoughts?
I was happy for him. He’s a good friend of mine, and I thought it was dope. You can tell by his music that he’s passionate about the city of Toronto. Just having a team that he can back, and with me being a part of the team, I think it’s a dope situation for him. I’ve known him since I first [got] here, about four, five years now.
When you got the word, how did y’all celebrate?
I saw him that morning, and I talked to him for a minute. He was in our arena doing the press conference, and I talked to him just to congratulate him. He had a couple of ideas planned. It was a cool little thing.
BOSTON — The eras have changed every few seasons in Toronto, and DeMar DeRozan is the latest mainstay intent on ending it. He wants to be focusing on his playoff debut rather than worry about another sequence of rebuilding.
“It’s all on us at the end of the day,” he said Monday before the Raptors opened their preseason with a 97-89 victory against the Celtics. “It’s all on what we do as a team. If we go out there, do what we’re supposed to do, it’s no complaints nowhere.”
The first game of the regular season is three weeks away and the clock is already ticking. DeRozan and his teammates are looking forward to the first half of the year knowing that they can’t afford to be a second-half team. Coach Dwane Casey is in the final year of his contract. So is point guard Kyle Lowry, and small forward Rudy Gay will have an option to become a free agent. A bad start may help persuade new Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to make trades sooner than later.
Every franchise is approaching the season with optimism of some kind, but perhaps no team is faced with a more precarious view than Toronto. The Raptors have missed the playoffs the last five years, they haven’t had a winning season since 2006-07, they’ve reached the second round only one time and they have never won 50 games in their 18 seasons as an NBA franchise.