If former Knicks center Enes Kanter were a betting man, he would wager Blazers teammate Damian Lillard will line up for Portland on opening night in October and not request a trade to the Knicks.
Kanter has served two different stints with Portland — part of the 2018-19 season after being waived by the Knicks, then again this pandemic season during which he played all 72 games.
Kanter doesn’t think Lillard wants out despite indications of his displeasure with the Blazers not getting out of the first round this season. The Knicks are monitoring Lillard’s situation with hopes he’ll land on the trade block.
“You know one thing he doesn’t care about big markets, small markets,’’ Kanter said Monday on SiriusXM Radio. “He wants to win it all in Portland. I’m saying this every time I talk about him, but he’s definitely one of the most loyal and maybe the most loyal player in the league. People always talk about how good of a player he is, but he’s actually one of the best teammates that I’ve played with.”
After the season ended with their first-round defeat to the Nuggets, Lillard sounded disillusioned at the post-game press conference, saying the Blazers weren’t good enough to beat a Denver team missing Jamal Murray and Will Barton. He later posted a rap lyric on his Instagram: “How long should I stay dedicated? How long til opportunity meet preparation.”
Kanter saw the cryptic lyrics, but understood where it was coming from.
“When you’re like one of the top five players in the league, of course you got to be frustrated because you want to go out there and win it all,’’ Kanter said. “And when that is not happening it can be very frustrating, but for him, he wants to do it all in Portland. He doesn’t care about the big market, big-city base, and that he wants to just bring a championship to Portland and the state of Oregon.
“I think the one thing that maybe will be frustrating is if he couldn’t do it for Portland because this guy gives it all every night. Every night he’s hurt, he’s tired, he’s going out there and trying to do the best he can to just win with every game and give us 100 percent. So after the playoffs, I was really frustrated and sad because we couldn’t do it for Dame.”
The Blazers promptly fired coach Terry Stotts with Lillard putting in a public plug for Jason Kidd, who then withdrew his name. However, Nets assistant coach Mike D’Antoni is interviewing with the Blazers and his speedball offense could entice Lillard, an All-NBA point guard.
Despite Kanter’s remarks, the Knicks, desperate for a point guard, believe they have assets and cap space to make a trade for a star such as Lillard. In addition, Knicks assistant coach Johnnie Bryant is a mentor of Lillard’s from their native Oakland, Calif.
The Knicks have five first-round picks over the next three years. In the upcoming draft, they have three picks in the top 31 — including two first-rounders at 19 and 21.
The Knicks are likely willing to include three first-round picks in a Lillard deal and have the cap space to make a transaction smoother mathematically.
A Knicks player didn’t make one of the NBA’s two All-Defense Teams. Nerlens Noel got two second-place votes for centers. Julius Randle received four second-place votes for forwards. The Knicks led the NBA in opponent scoring average, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.