Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo have both found change bittersweet but the NBA superstars are ready to unite to bring the Milwaukee Bucks another crown.
A Saturday welcome rally is set in Milwaukee for seven-time NBA All-Star guard Lillard, obtained in a trade deal Wednesday, to celebrate what is expected to be an epic partnership with Greek center Antetokounmpo, who sparked the Bucks to their first title in 50 years in 2021.
Lillard sent a farewell message to Portland supporters on social media saying “Dame Time has run out” but also hinting he might one day return to the team where he spent his first 11 NBA seasons, earning the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
“This isn’t a goodbye, it’s a see you later,” Lillard said. “The way you embraced me from day one gave me no choice but to reciprocate the love 1,000 times and I don’t regret it one bit.
“I do believe a day will come where I put a Blazers uniform on again and hopefully by then I’ll be forgiven for breaking your hearts along with my own.”
Lillard never reached the NBA Finals with the Trail Blazers, only reaching the conference finals in 2019 when Portland was swept by Golden State.
“As this chapter of my life ends, I look back and realize how special it was,” Lillard wrote. “Even in this moment I feel sad that we never accomplished what I so badly wanted to. I don’t cry much, but I know my love for you is real because I am for sure dropping some tears right now.”
Antetokounmpo told Bleacher Report he is excited for the opportunity to play alongside Lillard, but will miss Jrue Holiday, his teammate for the past three seasons who went to Portland as part of the trade deal.
“It’s a bittersweet day for the city of Milwaukee,” Antetokounmpo told the website. “You get Dame, who is a great player, but you lose a great guy. Jrue took us to the promised land. He’s one of the best human beings I’ve been around.
“At the same time, I’m excited to have Dame. He gives us a chance to win a championship. I’m excited to play with the caliber of player that he is. He can score the ball in his sleep and shoot the lights out.”
‘He’s hungry to win’
The Greek big man knows Lillard yearns for an NBA title with a hunger that rivals his own. Antetokounmpo was reluctant to sign a new long-term deal with the Bucks before they showed a commitment to winning another crown.
“We’ve got to focus on the goal to win the championship,” Antetokounmpo said. “Dame wants this. He’s hungry to win, and he’s going to push us. I’m very happy to have him on our team.”
Antetokounmpo made his feelings clear in a social media post Friday of him working out captioned: “The magic is in the work.”
Lillard told Bleacher Report he was excited to compete alongside a more talented player in Antetokounmpo.
“To be a part of a great overall team is a dream come true,” Lillard said. “It’s time for me to be in this situation. And knowing myself enough, I’m going to take advantage of it. I’m excited for this opportunity.”