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Damian Lillard in the building at Barclays! What’s that about?

Let the rumors begin: Damian Lillard who may be looking for a new team shows up courtside at Barclays Center


It’s hard to say what was the most bizarre moment in Thursday’s Nets-76ers game. But putting aside the “groin” calls (how’s that for a euphemism?) and Nic Claxton’s ejection, the moment that could staying longer in fan consciousness than Joel Embiid’s reach was this one: when TNT cameras caught Damian Lillard sitting courtside, 2500 miles from home...


Before we go all DEFCON1 in the comments, let’s note that NBA stars often show up at games to watch basketball. Kevin Durant does it. But according to Chris Haynes, this was the first time Lillard had attended a game as a fan since he was drafted in 2012. Indeed, Thursday’s visit was so low-key that Jacque Vaughn said Friday that he was unaware of it until after one of his sons told him after the game.

Haynes also suggested fans shouldn’t read too much into Lillard’s appearance, contending Lillard was in town to talk about his latest rap album with managers and that he had tried, but failed, to get Knick tickets.

Then, Friday, it got harder to avoid speculation. A Blazers fan posted video of Lillard and Mikal Bridges partying, apparently after Thursday night’s game. Lillard had told Stephen A. Smith recently “I love Mikal Bridges.”

Oh. Oh.

As Sigmund Freud (a name familiar to many Nets fans) said, ‘Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” However, in the past several weeks, Lillard has made it clear that he is not willing to go through another Trail Blazers rebuild. And he’s been linked by pundits to the Nets ... as well as the 76ers who might need a point guard if James Harden goes home to Houston.

Absent details of Lillard’s intentions, here’s what we know: After years of loyalty to the Blazers, the 32-year-old recently told reporters, “I don’t have much of an appetite for building with guys two and three years away and not really go after it.”

Later, Lillard told Stephen A. Smith that he wasn’t threatening anyone.

“It ain’t a threat,” Lillard said. “ I ain’t gonna say I’m putting them on the clock, I’m just saying if those things can’t be done, (if) we can’t do something significant like that then we won’t have a chance to compete on that level. Not only will I have a decision to make, but I think the organization will too because at that point, it’s like, ‘Are you gonna go young or are we gonna get something done?’

He also suggested to Smith that the Blazers understand his predicament.

“I think we just kinda been on the fence with fully committing to either one. I just think we at that point now where everybody wants to win. They believe I deserve that opportunity.”

And Lillard made it seem like time is of the essence as well.

“I think this is our most important offseason since I’ve been here,” he told ESPN.

So, let’s assume that Lillard who averaged 32.2 points a game and scored 71 points in a game back in February. wants the Nets. One can expect that because of his long-time loyalty, Lillard will get what he wants from Portland. However, much like Kevin Durant last summer, Lillard can’t want to so denude a roster he’s joining in hopes of winning it all. He sure seems like he wants to work with Bridges and there is NO indication the Nets will trade Bridges anywhere. That would almost certainly put Claxton at the center of the Blazers opening demand. Maybe they like Cam Thomas or Day’Ron Sharpe. It’s just our speculation.

What would the Nets want to give up? Start with all that draft capital rather than a key player. They have 11 first rounders, only one with protections; a first round swap and nine seconds. Two of those firsts and a second are in this year’s draft. Hard to believe that the Nets would want to lose Claxton. Ideal for the Nets would be a trade centered on Ben Simmons $37.9 million contract next year. Lillard will make $45.6 million. Could Portland be interested in a Simmons that looked more like the player circa 2019-20? And if you’re looking at a multiple team deal, Sean Marks has two potentially usable trade exceptions, one for $18.1 million, the other for $5.0 million.

Of course, there are other issues: like would the Nets want to go the superstar route again, with all its unforeseen consequences? How would he fit? (On the other hand, it would scotch all those reports that the Nets are no longer attractive to superstars.)

Don’t expect anything serious to take place till after the NBA Draft Lottery. The Blazers currently have the No. 5 pick. If the basketball gods should move them up to the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, that would have to affect Lillard’s decision ... and the Blazers.

Nothing can officially happen till July 9, the first day that he can be traded. Till then, let the speculation roll.