Damian Lillard has opened the door for a future move to the Portland Trail Blazers after an emotional return to his former home with the Milwaukee Bucks.
The 33-year-old was the face of the Blazers' franchise for his first 11 seasons in the NBA and was treated to a lengthy ovation before Wednesday's game.
A number of video tributes were played on the video screen for Lillard during timeouts at Moda Center, where the Bucks went on to lose 119-116 in a second straight loss under new coach Doc Rivers.
Lillard, who was traded to the Bucks in October as part of a three-way deal, was not shy in later letting the crowd know where his heart lies.
"I'm just in a space of like, this is where I am now," he said. "I'm in Milwaukee. I wanted the opportunity to contend, and our team has an opportunity to contend for this year and years to come, and I'm living in that.
"But definitely, when I was traded, I see a day where I'll be in a Trail Blazer uniform again before I'm done.
"You just feel the appreciation and the love. It was like, 'man, this is a big deal'. Everybody in the building just showed me that type of love and acknowledgement from during my time here. So, I appreciated it.
"I'm not going to cry, nothing like that. I'm not a big crier, but I'm not going to hide the emotions that I feel from it. I think it's a moment that means a lot to me and a lot of other people."
Damian Lillard receives an ovation from Rip City in his return to Portland— NBA (@NBA) February 1, 2024
Trail Blazers-Bucks | LIVE on ESPN pic.twitter.com/HFjFhcRcS9
Lillard had 25 points on 9-of-23 shooting – 3 of 13 from 3-point range – with seven assists, six rebounds and four turnovers.
Even before his standing ovation and various other tributes, the eight-time NBA All-Star – who averaged 32.2 points per game with the Blazers last season – talked of his love for Portland on the eve of the game.
"I loved the organization. I loved everybody I went to work with every day," he said. "And I think what made it the hardest is it wasn't a wasn't a broken relationship.
"So coming back, being able to be here, I'm in a great situation. The reason it all came about in the first place was for a chance to win it all. We couldn't be at that place at the same time. So I come back with love, and I'm excited to be back."
Anfernee Simons ultimately spoiled Lillard's big return with a go-ahead floater with 17.1 seconds remaining, while Giannis Antetokounmpo registered 27 points and eight rebounds, as the Blazers made it back-to-back victories.
"It was a fun night, celebrating a great player, a great person," Simons said. "We came in here knowing we've got stuff we want to accomplish as well. We came in wanting to win the game."
The Bucks are now 32-16 for the season and are second in the Western Conference ahead of facing the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, while the 15-33 Blazers are 14th in the West and take on the Denver Nuggets on Friday.