The injury that forced Damian Lillard to go under the knife is one he's been battling for years. The Portland Trail Blazers superstar admitted as much just a couple weeks after the 2021-22 season tipped off amid the worst struggles of his career. Just over two months and multiple stints on the sideline later, Lillard finally made the decision to prioritize his long-term health over Portland's short-term gain in the standings, getting surgery to correct his chronic core discomfort on January 13th.

Speaking with media on Saturday for the first time since the procedure, though, Lillard revealed that he could've taken that direct action over the summer. Olympic teammate Jrue Holiday, who'd previously undergone surgery to address a nagging core injury, “constantly” extolled its virtues en route to Team USA's gold medal in Japan. But Lillard elected against having surgery, returning from the Olympics to instead commence with some major preexisting plans in his personal life.

Lillard took lengths to address the discomfort in his midsection after coming back from Japan. He took more time off than normal and did exercises and rehab work to strengthen his core, entering training camp feeling close to full health. But his pain quickly returned, causing Lillard's wholly uncharacteristic early-season labors and the Blazers to quickly tumble down the Western Conference standings.

Lillard confirmed on Saturday that he'll be re-evaluated in six-to-eight weeks. His utmost goal remains to win a championship in Portland, and the 31-year-old understands why returning later this season wouldn't make sense if the Blazers are playing more for draft lottery odds than playoff positioning.

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Lillard's life has always been much bigger than basketball, and rightfully so. While getting surgery in August likely would have kept him healthy this season, it also would've prevented Anfernee Simons' ongoing breakout and left Portland without the rare opportunity to get a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft—not to mention mar some of the most important events he'll ever share with his family.


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The decision to put off surgery was the right one for Damian Lillard and his team. Here's hoping the Blazers take full advantage by retooling around him in advance of next season.

[h/t Sean Highkin, Orlando Sanchez]