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.