• Very shortly before or almost immediately after his highly-publicized meeting with team owner Paul Allen, Damian Lillard publicly affirmed his commitment to the Portland Trail Blazers.

    “That speaks to me, because when you think of the Mavericks, you think of Dirk,” the newly-minted All-Star told ESPN’s Chris Haynes in a story published on January 18. “You had a lot of people that came through there, but he’s been there. I think what he’s meant to that organization is huge. The same thing with Tim Duncan. He represents the Spurs. That’s the name that comes up. And for the Trail Blazers, I want to be the best Trail Blazer ever. And when people talk about this franchise, I want them to talk about me. I want to be what people think of first when they talk about the Portland Trail Blazers.”

    Lillard has certainly accomplished that feat in the short term, after news of his sit-down with Allen broke Monday night, igniting a mini fervor over perceived discontent with the only organization he’s ever known. Reaction to the meeting, which wasn’t attended by general manager Neil Olshey, coach Terry Stotts or anyone but owner and player, makes sense considering Portland’s typically middling performance over halfway through the 2017-18 season.

    Two years ago, after LaMarcus Aldridge left in free agency and the team officially began building around Lillard, the extent of success the Blazers are experiencing now was enough to make them a feel-good story. Portland exceeded all realistic expectations in its first season of a decidedly new era, winning 44 games, taking out the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs and putting pressure on the Golden State Warriors, who were without Steph Curry for three games, one round later.

    All of that unexpected success came back to bite the Blazers, though, and not just because it put them on an assumed upward trajectory that makeup of the roster alone didn’t necessarily suggest. Olshey felt obligated to keep the team together after 2015-16, paying prices to retain incumbent role players and add supporting pieces the one-off boom of that summer’s salary cap has made look foolish. Portland is locked into Evan Turner, Mo Harkless and Meyers Leonard through 2018-19 for a combined amount of approximately $39 million per year, about 40 percent or more of the projected salary cap for each of the seasons between now and then.

    With max money doled out to Lillard and C.J. McCollum for the next three years, the Blazers’ financial flexibility is supremely limited. Olshey already dumped Allen Crabbe’s exorbitant contract in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets, saving his team tens of millions in luxury-tax payments and future guaranteed salary, but getting nothing back in return. If Portland has the intention of re-signing Jusuf Nurkic in restricted free agency this summer, might additional debilitating moves of a cost-shaving nature be on the horizon?

    That’s the type of question to which only upper management knows has a worthwhile reply, just like one concerning the Blazers’ approach to the upcoming trade deadline. Both answers are instructive to Portland’s present and future, too, and Lillard has made abundantly clear time and again he plans on playing in the Rose City as long as he can. Considering those best-laid plans and his team’s apparent place stuck on the pinwheel of mediocrity, it should come as no surprise that Lillard, who turns 28 in July, wanted a first-person glimpse at Allen’s outlook before trade season ends on February 8.

    Not every meeting between a faction of players, coaches or executives has to be fraught with tension, or indicative of simmering discontent about to boil over. The Blazers have never been the Cleveland Cavaliers in that respect, and Lillard has definitely never been LeBron James. He’s among the most thoughtful, resilient and loyal superstars professional sports has to offer. The notion that he would be comfortable with Portland’s current status as a postseason also-ran that lacks the personnel for meaningful internal improvement is actually an insult to one of the league’s most ardent competitors. Of course this ongoing status quo isn’t enough for Lillard.

    His meeting with Allen is only making waves due to the recent history of other stars who seemed stranded on mediocre teams. Nowhere in ESPN’s report is a nugget about Lillard’s unhappiness playing for the Blazers, nor one conveying anything close to an ultimatum regarding a major in-season shakeup. Instead, the story consistently alludes to his steadfast desire to bring Portland its first championship since 1977, and includes an anecdote that Allen feared a trade demand was possible, one Lillard quickly put to rest.

    The day after a tough road loss to the Denver Nuggets, amid so much locker-room turmoil across the league, a fan asked Lillard on twitter whether he’d be playing in Portland beyond this season. His response was as telling as it was succinct.

    Lillard, it seems, will be with the Blazers until the team decides otherwise. His meeting with Allen, knee-jerk reactions be damned, looms no larger than that reality.

Fantasy News

  • Patrick Beverley
    PG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Patrick Beverly had a monstrous stat line against the Celtics in a 107-104 overtime win on Wednesday, ending the night with 14 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, two blocks and four 3-pointers.

    It's really hard to ask for a better game than this. Beverly was a machine in this one and had easily his best game of the year. Unfortunately, this performance was more of an outlier than the norm. It's tough to count on him for consistent value in standard leagues, but could have merit in deeper leagues. This was the Clippers' first game with both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, so it's possible this dynamic creates more chances for Beverly, but we'll have to wait and see.

  • Paul George
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Paul George racked up 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting in Wednesday night's contest against the Celtics, in addition to five rebounds, eight assists, a block and four 3-pointers.

    George had another solid outing and shows that he can contribute across the board. Although he has only suited up four times this year, he is a top-10 player on a per-game basis along with his teammate, Kawhi Leonard. He should have the opportunity for some huge games when Kawhi takes his days off.

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Kawhi Leonard did a little bit of everything in his return on Wednesday night, putting up a line of 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals, two blocks and three 3-pointers.

    Simply put, Leonard can ball. It's just a matter of how often. Fantasy players drafted him for nights like this, but have to live with the fact that he'll be missing games every now-and-then. That being said, on a per-game basis, he is still a top-10 player this year and someone you can count on to end the season around that mark.

  • Montrezl Harrell
    PF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Montrezl Harrell logged 31 minutes off the bench on Wednesday, and turned it into six points, six rebounds, three dimes, two steals and two blocks.

    It was a quiet night on offense for Harrell as most of the Clippers' shots came from their guards and wings. However, he was still able to contribute a couple steals and blocks tonight. Even after the low offensive output, Harrell is sitting inside top-80 value on the season. Ivica Zubac and Maurice Harkless also had quiet nights with five and three points respectively.

  • Lauri Markkanen
    PF, Chicago Bulls

    Lauri Markkanen woke up with a team-high 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting with six boards, three treys, one steal and two blocks in a 109-89 win over the Pistons on Wednesday.

    Markkanen has not delivered anything close to his mid-round ADP so far this season, mostly the result of his .362 shooting from the field. He could warm up soon and his buy-low window would slam shut. Act accordingly.

  • Lou Williams
    SG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Lou Williams took over for the Clippers on Wednesday night, ending the contest with 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and three 3-pointers but also seven turnovers.

    In a night where all eyes were supposed to be focused on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the court for the first time, Lou Williams stole the show. He led the team in both points and field goal attempts. Williams has had a great stretch of games and has played at a top-50 value recently. However, his season marks are more realistic and have him just inside the top-100.

  • Wendell Carter Jr.
    C, Chicago Bulls

    Wendell Carter Jr. played well in a tough matchup against Andre Drummond, posting 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting with 15 rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in 33 minutes.

    WCJ is a top-120 value on the season, but has the tools to pull that needle closer to top-75 before the 2019-20 dust settles. Consider floating a buy-low offer right now.

  • Shaquille Harrison
    PG, Chicago Bulls

    Shaquille Harrison drew the start for an injured Otto Porter (righ foot bone bruise) and thrived with 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, one trey and one block in 26 minutes on Wednesday.

    Porter is out for at least a couple more weeks. Harrison has outplayed Chandler Hutchison with this spot start, making him a speculative add in case Harrison sticks with starting five.

  • Jayson Tatum
    SF, Boston Celtics

    Jayson Tatum balled out on Wednesday, dropping a season-high 30 points on 12-of-24 shooting, and adding, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks and five 3-pointers.

    This was one of Tatum's best lines of the season. He has strung together a couple of solid outings with Gordon Hayward out. Tatum is currently a top-40 player and should settle somewhere around there as the season progresses.

  • Kemba Walker
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Kemba Walker had a rough night on Wednesday, scoring 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting, with only two assists and six turnovers, but somehow managed nine rebounds.

    Kemba's night was salvaged with his nine rebounds, but other than that it was one he'd like to forget. It was his season-high in turnovers and tied his season-low in assists. He is still a top-20 guy and he'll move past this. It just wasn't a great game, simple as that.