When Damian Lillard agreed to a new maximum contract extension with the Trail Blazers on Thursday, it may have been the beginning of a changing of the guard in Portland.
Lillard agreed to terms on a five-year contract worth more than $120 million, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced.
"Thank you so much to @PaulGAllen and the @trailblazers organization," Lillard tweeted after the news broke. "I'll be in (hashtag)RipCity 6 more years! Oakland to Ogden to Oregon..TO STAY."
The full value of the contract could wind up ranging between $125 million and $129 million and won't be determined until the salary cap is established. That makes it the richest contract in league history for a guard.
What a rise it's been for Lillard, the dynamic point guard who grew up in Oakland, played college under the radar at Weber State but still managed to climb to the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. He is a point guard for the new age, a ferocious competitor who can score as well as he passes and puts pressure on the defense as soon as the ball is in his hands.
Lillard teamed up with LaMarcus Aldridge to headline a starting five in Portland that just a year ago appeared on the brink of pushing the Blazers back into the Western Conference elite. With Lillard running things on the perimeter and Aldridge providing a big target in the post and on those devastating pick-and-pop plays designed by coach Terry Stotts, the Blazers stormed out of the gates in 2013 and beat the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs on an electrifying, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Lillard in Game 6.
But the Blazers weren't able to build on that success this season, battling injuries and losing in the first round of the playoffs to Memphis.
Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews was lost to an Achilles injury and won't return, starting forward Nicolas Batum was traded to Charlotte. Aldridge, the previous face of the franchise, and starting center Robin Lopez are considering other offers on the open market as well.
That makes it possible, if not likely, that Lillard will be the lone returning starter in Portland next season. But he's shown in his first three seasons in the league that he's definitely worth building around. He is a two-time All-Star, won rookie of the year in 2012-13 and has cemented himself as one of the best point guards in a league full of very good ones.
Lillard has also been active in the community, helping out causes in Portland and at home in Oakland while regularly engaging with fans on Twitter and at the arena. He has become one of the league's most marketable personalities and has a lucrative endorsement deal with Adidas.
The Blazers also agreed to a three-year, $20 million deal with forward Ed Davis on Thursday, giving them some insurance if Aldridge chooses to leave for one of his many other suitors, including San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas.
And if Aldridge does return, the Blazers will once again have one of the most feared offensive tandems in the league suddenly supplemented by a fresh haul of role players including Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee and Noah Vonleh to try to keep climbing up the Western Conference ladder.
This story has been corrected to show that Lillard was named rookie of the year in 2013, not 2012.