NBA rumors: Terry Stotts' time with Portland coming to an end?

Nearly nine years after Stotts became Trail Blazers head coach, sources say his time in the role is increasingly expected to come to an end after this season, in large part, because this team just can’t find a way to truly become elite. The Western Conference finals appearance in 2019 has been the apex of the Stotts era, with four first-round exits and two in the second round during this stretch of seven consecutive playoff berths. For the Trail Blazers, several factors — the lack of progress and adjustments over the course of the season, as well as Stotts’ stint with the franchise running its course after nine years — have made clear that the team will likely look for a fresh voice in the offseason. If Stotts can’t “pull a rabbit out of his hat” with a playoff miracle of sorts, as one source put it, the Blazers are expected to opt for a new coaching voice. And the Damian Lillard timeline, it seems, is playing a big part here.

More on Terry Stotts Hot Seat?

Stotts, who sources say has less player support now than he did in years past, has one season left (upwards of $6 million). Among the potential coaching candidates for the Trail Blazers, sources say: Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan, 76ers assistant Dave Joerger, Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups and Spurs vice president of basketball operations Brent Barry. Sources say Blazers chairwoman Jody Allen, who took over for her brother, Paul, when he passed away in October 2018, has become increasingly focused on the Blazers’ future this season.
The question today rests somewhere between whether Stotts can teach defense, or whether the players can play it. As the playoff race intensifies, so too does the criticism about Stotts’ defense, which in his nine seasons in Portland has featured more average-to-poor seasons than good ones. It has created a tense backdrop to Stotts’ future in Portland. He is under contract through the 2021-22 season, and while he has made seven consecutive playoff appearances and is well-liked by his players, a source says the Blazers’ lack of defense throughout his tenure has become a topic with ownership in Seattle.
I believe Lillard is still on board, and to my knowledge he still supports Stotts, and he shows that with comments such as on Monday, when like all good leaders he showed he is more in the business of accepting responsibility than pointing fingers. “As far as the big picture, I’m not in control of how that happens. I’m just one person,” Lillard said. “But I do know that I’m someone who needs to be contributing to us making an effort to improve our defense, and that’s all I can do.”
I asked Stotts on Monday how he holds his players accountable for poor defense. “I think in general in the NBA game, reducing playing time is not the answer for the most part,” Stotts said. “Sometimes with young players you can do that. After every game we usually have a film session pointing out teaching points, things we could do better, things we did well.
So while CJ McCollum’s best efforts will be worth watching, and the help of Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside is not for nothing, it won’t likely be enough. If this comes down to a tiebreaker with New Orleans, the Pelicans hold it against Portland (they went 4-0 head-to-head this season). A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out. He was given a contract extension through the 2021-22 season after Portland’s West Finals appearance last season.
Ownership came close to firing Terry Stotts, several sources say. Teams with head-coaching vacancies, including Phoenix, began engaging third parties about Stotts' potential interest in their jobs, sources say.
But the Blazers didn't break. Lillard fought for Stotts. "I was asked what I thought, and I just said I love him as a coach," Lillard says. "We all love him." (They show it, too. When Stotts moved into third place on Portland's all-time win list last season, CJ McCollum bought him an $1,800 bottle of Bordeaux.)
But they were denied permission to interview Stotts, leading some to think he was on firm ground back in Portland. Perhaps not, as Stotts’ wishes to get an extension were turned down by Paul Allen, according to Portland sources. With this season and next season to go on his contract, Stotts’ position is now considered tenuous by rival GMs and scouts. One big reason: Allen’s recent death has put a cloud over the franchise.
"Right now, it’s all in limbo in Portland because no one knows what the Vulcan people are going to do," one Western Conference executive said. "If the team gets put up for sale, then there could changes that extend to the top basketball people, above Stotts."
Q: Not a Blazers fan, but what do you think they should do next? — (Alex, Sacramento) Marc STEIN: I'm guessing you're asking about the roster, but first we have to deal with the status of the coach (Terry Stotts) and the general manager (Neil Olshey). Throughout the Blazers' first-round sweep by New Orleans, there were rumblings around the league that Stotts' job was in jeopardy and that teams such as Orlando and Phoenix were ready to pounce if he indeed became available. But that talk has largely quieted since Portland's early exit.
Marc Stein: The latest word in coaching circles is that the Blazers prefer to keep Stotts heading into the final year of his contract — as they should. (I would argue Stotts should be up for an extension, but perhaps that's a topic for a future Corner Three.) There's a reason Stotts is wildly popular with actual Blazers fans beyond his whole "PhotoStotts" alter ego. It's largely because he's gotten the most out of pretty much every roster he's had there.
Joe Freeman: Nurkic on Stotts: "I think, overall, very positive. I love Stotts and enjoy playing for him ... I think he’s a great communicator. But I feel even he didn’t expect to lose 4-0 in the playoffs, which sometimes can be tough. People don’t understand that can be part of the life."
Marc Stein: The murmurs have already started In coaching circles that 10 consecutive playoffs defeats will cost Terry Stotts his job in Portland, but league sources say Orlando would register immediate interest in Stotts if he becomes available
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.’’
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.’’
“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.’’
The lieutenants who work at owner Paul Allen's Vulcan, Inc. mothership have been analyzing data and asking important questions. Two NBA front-office sources said they were contacted in the last 10 days by the Vulcans and asked whether they thought Trail Blazers struggles were due to a broken roster or poor coaching. "Paul is getting antsy," one of the league sources said, "he thinks they should be winning more.
Stotts' contract runs through the end of the 2020 season at $5 million a year. General manager Neil Olshey has a contract that runs through 2021. Blowing up either the coach or the GM isn't something Allen, net worth $20.7 billion, would flinch at if he thought that would change a thing. And for some added urgency here consider that the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline is Feb. 8.
Coach Terry Stotts' job is not in jeopardy, league sources told ESPN. Damian Lillard, the unquestioned leader of the team, has stressed player accountability. The organization isn't panicking, believing that, when healthy, the Blazers will work their way back into the playoff picture.
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