Portland has plunged steeply in March, having dropped 10 of 15 games and stationed in play-in territory as the No. 7 seed. It’s a disheartening period that will likely end up costing coach Terry Stotts his job, a position he’s held for nearly a decade.
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: Does Damian Lillard expect big changes this summer? "I’m not sure. I’m not the guy making decisions. It’s a great organization. I think everyone has done a great job. Coach Stotts has done a great job since Day 1. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight."
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."
Joe Freeman: CJ McCollum on coach Terry Stotts: "I think he’s done a terrific job with what he’s been given."
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
Ben Golliver: Terry Stotts, swept out as three seed, on what Portland needs to do to join the NBA's elite: "A little early right now to say what direction we're going to go... Neil [Olshey] is really good. We've been in the playoffs 5 straight years."
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.
June 18, 2021 | 6:13 pm EDT Update
Adrian Wojnarowski: Phoenix Suns All-Star guard Devin Booker has committed to join the 12-man Team USA roster for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, sources tell ESPN.
Brian Mahoney: Steve Nash, keeping the faith in a Game 7 without Kyrie and a limited Harden: “This is what it is. This is the deck we have. We’re going to solve as many puzzles as we can and we’re also going to try to play our hearts out and enjoy the opportunity, as we have done all year.”
Tom Moore: #Hawks coach Nate McMillan: ‘We’ve been finding our shot mostly in the second half. We need to shoot the ball better. … Our defense has been doing a pretty good at holding and getting stops.’
Sarah K. Spencer: I asked Nate McMillan about Onyeka Okongwu in Game 5: “We’re looking for energy, from his position, when he steps into the game. A rookie playing in his first year, basically go out there and outwork your opponent. He’s been able to do that and give us good minutes.”
Anthony Slater: Klay Thompson, from his boat, updating his patient rehab approach: “Hopefully (return) early next season. The Achilles is like a 12-month recovery phase. I also have to factor in my left knee. I don’t want to come back and be half myself.” Thompson had Achilles surgery on Nov 25