One of the biggest NBA stories in recent weeks was the Portland Trail Blazers hiring Chauncey Billups as head coach. It was a big story mostly due to rape allegations against Billups from 1997 (when he was playing for the Boston Celtics) and whether or not that should disqualify him for being a head coach. The Blazers only added fuel to the fire when they shut down questioning at Billups’ introductory press conference about the allegation and general manager Neil Olshey say said, “You’re just going to have to take our word,” when asked about the investigation the team ran about the incident during the hiring process.
On Thursday, in his first public comments in a media setting since the hiring, Portland star guard Damian Lillard shared his thoughts on the hire and how he felt about it after the allegations came back to light. Speaking after USA Basketball practice, Lillard said he didn’t know about the allegations when the search process started, and that it wasn’t his place to tell the team who to hire and who to not.
“When I said that I didn’t know, I meant, right away when we let Terry go, I was asked about names that had been floated out there. And of the ones that had been floated out there, I said I like J-Kidd and I like Chauncey,” Lillard said, per Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin. “At that time, I had no idea of any of it. When I did learn of it and the process continued, I never felt like it was my job or my duty to say ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do this.’ I do my job, I improve my game and show up as the point guard of the team. In the past, I’ve never stepped on anybody’s toes or demanded anything or told anybody what to do and it was no different in this situation. That’s all I can really say. I’ve known Chauncey before and I never knew of that until this coaching process came into play. Our organization said they did a thorough investigation and went through everything, they went through the process of hiring a coach as they did, in a comfortable way. That’s not my decision or my job to say ‘This guy is hired ‘ or ‘This guy’s not hired ‘ or anything. This is what it is now. So here we are.”
Lillard’s comments are notable in that he seems to be distancing himself from how the Blazers handled the hiring and the reaction to it, particularly after his interactions with some fans on Twitter over the situation garnered plenty of attention and led to murmurs of him potentially looking to get out of Portland. He now seems to be trying to indicate he plans on moving forward with Billups regardless. But Lillard is also a star player with the clout to have his voice heard on this if he wanted to. As he himself said in the same scrum, if he had something to say, he’d say it directly.