Why Damian Lillard’s surgery could turn Portland into a seller at the NBA trade deadline

  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
  • Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
  • Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system

What does Damian Lillard’s decision to undergo abdominal surgery mean for him and the Portland Trail Blazers?

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Wednesday that Lillard plans to have surgery to address a lingering abdominal issue. While the injury predates this season, it became an issue with Lillard playing at less than his usual All-NBA standard. The Blazers can hope that whenever Lillard returns — Windhorst reports the surgery is not expected to end his season — he’ll be back to 100%.

How soon Lillard comes back may depend on whether Portland can stay in the play-in race in the Western Conference without him. Back-to-back home wins without Lillard and backcourt-mate CJ McCollum have lifted the Blazers to 10th in the West, but they’re closer to 14th place (three games up) than ninth (3.5 games back).

The next few weeks will also determine Portland’s strategy at the trade deadline. With two key players (Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic) set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, the Blazers would benefit from acting as sellers at the deadline, particularly with fewer teams looking to trade veterans due to the play-in race.

Let’s take a look at the implications of Lillard’s surgery.

Getting Lillard healthy

The most important thing for Portland is ensuring Lillard is healthy. Although he’s still been effective this season, leading the Blazers with 3.4 wins above replacement player in my metric despite missing 11 games due to injury, he hasn’t been the singular offensive force he was the past two seasons.

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