7:48 AM ET

As the shell-shocked Portland Trail Blazers dressed in the visiting locker room in New Orleans, processing a humiliating sweep that stretched their postseason losing to streak 10 games, Paul Allen, the team’s longtime owner, walked in to address them.

Allen typically thanked the team after the final game each season. He began by congratulating them on 49 wins and the No. 3 seed. His tone turned serious. The playoffs were the NBA’s “litmus test,” he said, using a phrase he would repeat often during the tense next month of evaluation. The sweep was “unacceptable,” Allen told them, according to several sources who were there. (Allen tragically passed away less than six months later of complications related to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.)

The language unnerved some players and staff. They feared a shakeup — feared for their jobs. Damian Lillard had been readying himself for any outcome since the New Orleans Pelicans won Game 2 in Portland. Phil Beckner, one of Lillard’s coaches at Weber State and a confidante since, texted Lillard after that game to see if he needed anything. “Door’s open,” Lillard replied. Beckner knew what that meant: Come over.

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