(Photo credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports)
One unwavering goal resulted in Damian Lillard landing with the Milwaukee Bucks.
"I don't think it's a secret how much I want to win. That's how we get here today," Lillard said Monday afternoon at media day, wearing a white Bucks jersey with number 0 for the first time.
"They want to win equally as bad as I do. I couldn't be more excited, I couldn't be more thankful for this opportunity to be part of this organization, playing alongside the best player in the league."
Lillard was traded to the Bucks in a multi-player deal from the Portland Trail Blazers last week, ending an 11-year run in the only NBA home he's known since being drafted sixth overall in 2012. He's the all-time leading scorer in franchise history, but said moving into a new role where he's "not the best player on the team" is an adjustment he's glad to make based on the excitement brought by the fresh start.
When he landed in Milwaukee, Lillard landed to a parade the Bucks said included more than 5,000 fans welcoming him to Wisconsin.
He said his agent called him to alert him of the deal and wanted to let Lillard sit with it for a while before discussing logistics.
Lillard said his family was all out of the house and none of them picked up his call when he reached out to inform them before the news hit social media.
The quiet gave Lillard a window to absorb the reality of the situation.
"The calls started coming in, friends, my family members," Lillard said. "I started thinking about the team. ... I saw what kind of team I was coming to be a part of and then that was when the excitement started kicking in. Just recognizing the opportunity that it is, just knowing how much I want to win. Going into every season being optimistic and thinking we had a chance to get it done (in Portland). And then coming into this situation and knowing you've got an opportunity to do it."
Milwaukee wasn't a popular mention in the NBA trade rumor mill with the Miami Heat often considered frontrunners. Lillard said he first talked to his agent about the Bucks two weeks before the trade.
"Obviously, Giannis (Antetokounmpo), it's public record that I've always mentioned, if I had to team up with one person it would be him," Lillard said. "It was an option ... press play. Why not? Why pass up on that type of opportunity?"
Antetokounmpo said he couldn't believe the news when he heard it.
"Unbelievable," Antetokounmpo said on Monday. "He loves the game. Extremely hungry. I've been here 10 years, we've been doing things quietly. We've been kind of moving under the radar. Obviously this kind of move brings a lot of attention to the team, a lot of hype around the team. Obviously I believe and I think a lot of people believe, we're one of the best teams in the East. At the end of the day, it's not about what we believe or what people believe. It's about what we do."
Antetokounmpo opened eyes in the league when he seemed to prop the door open for an exit from Milwaukee. He said Monday he wants to play for the Bucks, and tipped his hand on the timing of his next deal.
"It did not make sense to sign a contract right now because money is not important, a lot of --ing money is important," Antetokounmpo said. "So I'm going to sign it next year."
--Field Level Media