Paul Allen

Damian Lillard weighs in on meeting with Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen

Damian Lillard weighs in on meeting with Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen

Nearly three weeks ago, Trail Blazers captain Damian Lillard was asked whether he had much communication with owner Paul Allen about the direction of the team, and specifically about the coaching staff and personnel.

“Me and Paul speak, but it has never been anything like that,’’ Lillard said on Jan. 5.

Last week, that changed.

Lillard on Tuesday confirmed an ESPN report that he met with Allen on Jan. 18 to discuss the future of the franchise.

The gist of the meeting?

“Very simple,’’ Lillard told NBC Sports Northwest. “What are our plans to get closer to becoming a contender?’’

Lillard on Tuesday said he would not reveal the details of his meeting with Allen, and he was vague in identifying what changed in those 13 days, when his interactions with the owner went from surface level, and then escalated to a private meeting. 

“Opening up the line of communication,’’ Lillard said. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with communication.’’

At first blush, the optics of the Lillard/Allen meeting painted a franchise at a crossroads. But on Tuesday, both Lillard and Neil Olshey -- the team’s president of basketball operations – said there was much ado about nothing.

Lillard said he didn’t view the meeting as doing anything behind anybody’s back.

“I’m not a secretive person,’’ Lillard said. “And I have a good relationship with everyone, so I didn’t feel that anyone would think I was going about it that way.’’

Olshey said he always encourages players to visit with Allen, and said the owner briefed him immediately after the meeting. The subject matter of the meeting, Olshey said, mirrored previous conversations he had with Lillard this season.

The ESPN report says Lillard questioned some of Olshey’s moves in the meeting, including the 2015 trade of Will Barton to Denver. But Lillard on Tuesday said that is not entirely accurate.

“The only thing I said about Will Barton is that he could be good on our current roster,’’ Lillard said. “Never once mentioned having an issue with the trade. That was three years ago.’’

It’s not the first time a Blazers star has met with Allen. LaMarcus Aldridge often expressed his view with the owner and Brandon Roy also gave input on occasion. Allen on Tuesday declined an interview request.

And now, with a Blazers team flirting with a .500 record for the third consecutive season, Lillard for the first time reached out to establish a line of communication with the longtime owner.

Allen on Monday was in Denver to watch the Blazers’ 104-101 loss to the Nuggets, which included the Blazers losing a late-game lead. Wearing a grey Blazers baseball cap and a blue Seahawks jacket, Allen after the game shuffled out of the arena with his head down, knowing that 1.5 games separated the Blazers from 5th place in the West, and from 9th place, and out of the playoffs.

How much of his conversation with Lillard was on the mind of Allen as he walked into the chilly mile-high air is unknown, but this much is certain: With the Feb. 8 trading deadline nearing, perhaps never before has there been more focus on Olshey, Allen, and the direction of this iteration of the Blazers.

Time for Stotts to go? No chance if you ask the Trail Blazers players

Time for Stotts to go? No chance if you ask the Trail Blazers players

A Trail Blazers team unable to gain traction this season while playing below their own expectations has found something to fight for: their coach.

Amid chatter that Terry Stotts is on the coaching hot seat and in jeopardy of losing his job, several Trail Blazers players said their coach not only has the team’s attention and respect, but has become a rallying point for the players.

“We all know what’s going on,’’ veteran Ed Davis said. “The guys on the team, we read about it, and I know Coach does … that ‘Hot Seat’ stuff and things like that. Everybody sees it, and I know while I’m here, (along with) a bunch of the rest of the guys in the locker room, we are going to fight for Coach. Every night. There is no quit in us. He’s our leader.’’

The Blazers (20-18) are seventh in the Western Conference, but have a losing record at home (9-10), and have scuffled for much of the season with inconsistent, disjointed play that several times has led disgruntled Moda Center crowds to leave games early, and in exodus.

[Quick: Trail Blazers need a more consistent Nurkic]

Stotts, who is under contract through next season, has become a lightening rod for fan discontent as the team has struggled offensively and at times looked unmotivated as it dropped games to bottom-tier teams like Atlanta, Brooklyn and Sacramento.

In November, after a loss to the Kings, team captain Damian Lillard took to social media to defend an Instagram post criticizing Stotts, noting that it wasn’t Stotts who was missing late-game free throws, making crucial turnovers, or forgetting plays.

[NBC Sports Gold "Blazers Pass" premium-game Blazers streaming package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest - $34.99 - click to learn more and buy]

On Friday, after the Blazers’ victory over the Hawks, Lillard said the players all hear criticism of Stotts, and just like in November, he says it is unwarranted. The players, he says, are 100 percent behind Stotts.

“And I think it’s unanimous for a reason,’’ Lillard said. “Like I always say: we play for a great person, and whatever struggles that we have, it’s not his fault. I will tell you that: it’s not his fault.’’

The support from the locker room is not a surprise. In his sixth season in Portland, Stotts has always been well liked by players for his communication skills and his philosophy of teaching through positive reinforcement rather than pointed criticism. His style of play also empowers players to make their own decisions and play with freedom.

Those traits have painted Stotts as a “players’ coach,” a label that can often be interpreted as soft, or unwilling to discipline, which could be a reason why the players want to keep him around.

Lillard tensed up when offered that reasoning.

“I don’t work well with soft people,’’ Lillard said. “So, if he was soft , I would be like, he soft. I would tell you, he soft. I mean, he will call guys out … and he will … he does his job. He’s not a guy trying to be a hard ass, but when he needs to harden up he will harden up.’’

Case in point: A recent practice, when Stotts said three words that are seldom uttered in an NBA gym.


During a December practice in Portland, when the Blazers were in the midst of a six-game home losing streak that included several blowouts, the players heard what is largely an unspoken phrase in the NBA.

“On the line.’’

The stern command was from Stotts, and it was prompted after yet another mishap during the practice. The order was for the players to toe the baseline for a running drill – a common punishment tactic for high school and college coaches – but virtually taboo at the professional level.

“You don’t do that in the NBA,’’ Lillard said.

If there was a fracture in the ranks, making an NBA team run would surely reveal it.

[Quick: Trail Blazers need CJ to elevate his play to All-Star level]

As the players squeezed between each other along the baseline, Stotts barked another command. They had to run the length of the court, and back, in less than 10 seconds.

“I’ve played with players who would have looked at him and been like (sucks teeth) ‘Man, this dude trippin’ … whatever,’’ Lillard said. “And they would have missed (the 10 second cutoff) on purpose.’’

Without a word uttered, each Blazer toed the line and took off.

“Everybody made it,’’ Lillard said. “Down and back. Ten seconds. Sprinted hard. To me, that is a sign of respect.’’

It was vintage Stotts: pointed, yet not abusive or disrespectful.

“In an NBA sense, most coaches don’t do that,’’ Davis said. “But the point wasn’t that we have to run, the point was him making a statement that ‘You (expletive) up, let’s go.’ It was him saying ‘I’m going to grab your attention … without having to yell.’ ’’

Stotts, who earlier this week declined an invitation to talk about coaching this season amid growing criticism, did say that a common misconception is that he is easy on the players. He pointed to the film session last week after the Blazers lost at Atlanta, the team with the NBA’s worst record,.

“It wasn’t pretty,’’ Stotts said of the film session.

The players agreed, noting that Stotts this season has become more direct and more forceful in calling out mistakes during film sessions.

“He’s turned up the dial,’’ Meyers Leonard said. “And to be honest, I like it.’’


A telltale sign of a coach in trouble is when players stop listening, stop responding and stop playing for a coach.

It has happened in Portland, when the 2011-2012 Blazers rebelled against coach Nate McMillan and what they felt was an outdated offense, and it happened to Mike Dunleavy in 2000-2001 when he could no longer reach or control Rasheed Wallace.

This season, the Blazers players say Stotts still has their full attention, and full respect, and that he has not lost the locker room.

[Quick: Trail Blazers need a more aggressive Evan Turner]

“I see everybody in this locker room,’’ CJ McCollum said. “We go to dinner. Some come to the house. I see them on the plane. We are around each other more than we are around our families. If he has lost the locker room, I would know. But we believe in him.’’

During the final months of McMillan’s tenure, the locker room became toxic. Players like Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby could be seen huddling and whispering after games, a scene Davis said can become common when a coach has lost a team.

“Usually when a coach is starting to lose the locker room you have guys who are like, ‘Ah, coach doesn’t know what he is doing.’ We don’t have that right now,’’ Davis said. “Obviously we have guys who are going to be upset if they aren’t playing; I’m upset if I only play 12 minutes. But we don’t have a cancer or bad energy. We are in this together. And it starts with Coach and it starts with Dame.’’

Lillard in 2015 said as long as he is in Portland, he wants Stotts to be his coach. On Friday, he said one of the main reasons he chose to re-sign with Portland was because of Stotts.

 “How he is as a coach, and how he is as a person, is what I want to play for,’’ Lillard said. “When I signed up to be here and go through the rebuild and to move forward, he was a huge part of that. It’s because of our relationship and what I think of him and what I know of him to be to a team.’’


As the Trail Blazers near the season’s midpoint, several questions abound:

Why is the offense, ranked 25th out of 30 teams, so bad?

Why can’t a roster with 13 returning players, including all five starters, seem to gel?

Is the roster adequately constructed? Or are there too many bigs and not enough shooters?

And what happened to the fun, fluid Blazers who used to outwork opponents on a nightly basis?

The players say they only have one answer to the many questions: The problem is not Stotts.

“Everybody wants everything to happen right away,’’ McCollum said. “But it takes time. It takes time.’’

The question is how much time is owner Paul Allen willing to give? With the NBA’s sixth highest payroll, and a group that has largely been together for three seasons, this was supposed to be a season of progress.

The Blazers have improved in two key areas – defense and their record on the road – but have dramatically slipped in two areas that are usually a hallmark of Stotts and Portland teams – offense and homecourt advantage.

Along the way, there has been key injuries to Lillard (five missed games), Al-Farouq Aminu (13 games), and Jusuf Nurkic (three games) – and subpar play from much of the roster, which has prompted Stotts to use nine different starting lineups and several iterations of a playing rotation. No starting lineup has played more than eight games together, and only within the past 10 days has Stotts settled on a nine-man playing rotation.

Lillard said he has a relationship with Allen, but the owner has never asked him his thoughts on Stotts or personnel. Lillard also has an open relationship with Neil Olshey, the architect of this roster, that involves input and conversations about the team.

If Olshey approached Lillard and indicated the team was making a coaching change?

“I would want to know why,’’ Lillard said. “Because I honestly don’t feel like he is the issue. As players we have to do things a lot better. I honestly feel like he is one of the better coaches in the league as far as being an offensive coach, but also in giving players an opportunity, and connecting with the players, too. And then we have a great coaching staff. That is not the issue.’’

The issue is whether the team can turn it around. The next five games are against teams with winning records, four of them on the road.

“There’s a sense of urgency because we should be better, but we are not,’’ McCollum said. “That’s the reality of where we are. We have to build on it, win games at home and … I think it’s coming.’’

So they will forge ahead, pointed toward improvement, aiming for the playoffs. And playing, in part, for their coach.

“That’s our guy,’’ Davis said.

Paul Allen to blame for Blazer woes? That's just silly

Paul Allen to blame for Blazer woes? That's just silly

I'm not really sure where it's coming from, but lately I've been hearing a lot of blame for the Trail Blazers' early season struggles directed at the team's owner, Paul Allen.

I mean, seriously?

Let me ask you this: Without Allen as the owner, where would the Trail Blazers be right now? I'll answer that one for you -- in Seattle, that's where. Or Las Vegas. Or Vancouver, B.C. Because without Allen funding the construction of the Moda Center, this team would not have a new arena and would have moved out of town years ago as Memorial Coliseum decayed.

I've lived here all my life and I can tell you, there is no way this city would have ever paid for a new arena. There would have been no political will and no ballot measure. And if it ever got on the ballot, it would have failed. Miserably.

But Allen, unlike just about every other owner in pro sports, didn't come begging to the city for a new venue -- he built it himself. To the everlasting benefit of this city. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in basketball, you've probably enjoyed an experience of some sort in that arena. And the reality is, the Rose Quarter and its arena don't belong to Allen, they belong to the citizens of Portland.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” premium-game Blazers streaming package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest – $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

And you want to talk basketball? This city is very fortunate to have an owner who cares about his team. Cares enough to provide payrolls that have ranked the Trail Blazers very often among the top five in the NBA. This is a small market, folks. The TV and radio rights fees don't provide the kind of coin owners earn in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and many other larger markets.

Allen wants to win more than he wants to make money off his team. Think about that for a moment. How many other owners would even attempt to say that? Allen has proved it year after year and I would guess he's had very few seasons where this franchise has actually turned a profit. Allen wants a ring and is willing to pay for it.

But it's hard. I believe it's much more difficult to win a championship in the NBA than any other pro league. Championships are won by the same teams year after year -- even before this modern era of "superteams."

Yes, Allen is interested in the Trail Blazers. Interested enough that he wants in on decisions regarding drafts, trades and roster. For what he's spent on this franchise, is that not his right? Does he "meddle?" I have no idea. I do know that some of his general managers could have used a little more meddling. Has he made some wrong choices with GMs and coaches? I suppose. But who hasn't?

Allen does not live in Portland but you could make a case with all he and his franchise have done for this city, on the court and in the community, he's one of its most benevolent citizens.

And any assertion that he's been a negative influence on his franchise is just plain silly.

Usually teams are good, bad or in between but the Blazers have been all three

Usually teams are good, bad or in between but the Blazers have been all three

It's been a very topsy-turvy season for the Trail Blazers so far. After a 4-1 road trip, I went to Moda Center Thursday night expecting to see a very good team. I did -- but it wasn't the Portland Trail Blazers.

I cannot remember a more unpredictable Portland team. Usually, a team is either good, bad or somewhere in between. So far, the Trail Blazers have been all of those things. And it's pretty mysterious. We're seeing things here we haven't seen previously with this same group of players.

And really, this is the same bunch we've seen for a few years now, other than the addition of Jusuf Nurkic, which should be a big help. But lately, offensive struggles have led to lineup and rotation changes on almost a nightly basis. Coach Terry Stotts has usually found his starting lineup and stable rotation by this point of the season but not this year.

Meanwhile, turnovers are coming in big embarrassing bunches -- a problem the Trail Blazers have seldom had under Stotts. On the other hand, this is one of the best defensive teams in the league and we haven't seen that very often, either. Portland is one of the best rebounding teams in the league but is horrific in turning those rebounds into fast breaks. The worst in the league in fast breaks. Also the worst in the league in field-goal percentage in the paint. The Trail Blazers have been prolific three-point shooters in the past but are now 27th in the league in three-point attempts.

What's going on? Well, I think part of the trouble is that opposing teams are loading up on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, figuring -- correctly, most of the time -- that if those guys don't score Portland is not going to be able to find offense anywhere else. There isn't a lot of firepower up front other than Nurkic, who has been up and down, too. The addition of Pat Connaughton to the starting lineup has helped, as it not only added another good three-point shooter but by his presence, it's opened the paint for Lillard and McCollum.

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It wouldn't hurt if another reliable scorer could be found but I'm not sure there is any way that can be done.

To be fair, the Western Conference outside of Houston's Rockets, has mostly not lived up to expectations. With all of the Trail Blazers' problems, they still sit fifth in the West, which is mind-boggling given how they have played. But it seems that Portland is squandering a chance to climb much higher if it played with more consistency.

The real question at this point is how owner Paul Allen feels about this. He's never been known for great patience and he's paying out a lot of money for this show. Would he make a coaching or front office change? Push for a franchise-altering trade? I don't know, but nothing would surprise me if this roller-coaster ride continues.

Trail Blazers beat Lakers to stay undefeated, but many questions remain

Trail Blazers beat Lakers to stay undefeated, but many questions remain

LOS ANGELES -- Three games into the preseason, the Trail Blazers continue to be a team with more questions than answers.

After Tuesday's 109-106 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps the biggest question is whether  CJ McCollum's shooting touch will return in time for the Oct. 25 season opener?

The Blazers star shooting guard struggled once again on Tuesday, going 2-for-13, lowering his preseason shooting percentage to 28.2 percent (13-for-46). He did add six assists Tuesday after going without one in the Blazers' second preseason game. McCollum after last game said he wasn't worried about his shooting struggles, citing a limited offensive playbook and inconsistent lineups.

While the Blazers still have lineup and personnel questions -- who starts at small forward at the top of that list -- Damain Lillard is not among them. The All-Star had 30 points in 27 minutes on Tuesday and is now averaging 21.3 points per game in 24.5 minutes. On Tuesday Lillard made 10-of-17 shots, including 6-of-9 from three-point range. 

With owner Paul Allen sitting courtside next to president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, the Blazers had moments of fluid and inspired play sandwiched around longer spells of sporatic and disjointed play as coach Terry Stotts continued to mix and match lineups. Evan Turner started at small forward, following games in which Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe have started, but there doesn't appear to be a clear winner after the three contests, although Harkless was all over the court Tuesday with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. 

Stotts earlier in the week said he will continue to experiment with lineups for another week, meaning the Blazers next two games -- Thursday at the Clippers and Sunday at home against Denver -- will probably include a lot of substituting before he settles in on more regular-season like lineups in the final two preseason games at Utah and Golden State. 

Another subplot on Tuesday was the return of Meyers Leonard, who hasn't played since dislocating his left shoulder in March. He dunked on his first possession after cutting through the lane and receiving a pass from Lillard. Later, he made a running jumper after a pump fake and had a block on defense. But he also panicked under pressure and threw away a pass and was beaten inside for a defensive rebound.  All told, Leonard played 21 minutes and had 11 points, six rebounds and a block before fouling out 14 seconds into overtime. He made 4-of-10 shots. 

Perhaps the best combination of the night was a second quarter spurt that saw Lillard, Crabbe, Harless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Leonard play fluid and effective basketball on both ends of the court. 

The final minutes of regulation were back-and-forth, with the Blazers using Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh and Leonard and the Lakers using D'Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Yi Jianlian. After Connaughton tied the game with two free throws with 44.6 seconds left, Russell missed two three-pointers, one with about 30 seconds left and one at the buzzer after Leonard badly missed a fadeaway jumper.  

The Lakers scored the first four points of overtime but the Blazers took the lead on a drive from Connaughton with 1:43 left, then padded the league when rookie Jake Layman scooped up an errant pass and finished a fast-break layin for a 107-104 lead with 1:34 left. Vonleh sealed the victory with a dunk with 34.6 seconds left, although Clarkson had a three-point attempt in the final seconds that could have tied the game. 

Notes and numbers: Blazers center Mason Plumlee had 11 points and 11 rebounds ... After an impressive preseason opener, Crabbe had another non-descript game Tuesday, finishing with two points, one rebound and two assists in 25 minutes ... Lakers' No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram played 25 minutes and had five points and two rebounds. 

Next up: Portland at L.A. Clippers, 7:30 pm. Thursday (TNT)