After their 2017/18 season ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Pelicans in the first round of the postseason, the Trail Blazers came close to firing head coach Terry Stotts, sources tell ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Portland was close enough to making a move that teams like the Suns begin reaching out to intermediaries to gauge Stotts’ potential interest in their own coaching openings.
However, while ownership seriously considered a change, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey and star point guard Damian Lillard fought for Stotts, according to Lowe.
“I was asked what I thought, and I just said I love him as a coach,” Lillard said of Stotts. “We all love him.”
Lowe’s piece takes a deep dive into the Trail Blazers’ culture, as he notes that Lillard and C.J. McCollum “tolerate no squabbling, or blame games.” That attitude permeates the organization from top to bottom, according to Lowe, who points to the relationship between Olshey and Stotts as another example.
Although the two team leaders haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on everything, they’ve developed an understanding that Olshey will avoid players who don’t fit Stotts’ style and Stotts will coach the players he gets. As a result of their relationship, Lowe explains, players will never see Olshey and Stotts at odds in any serious way, as the organization emphasizes a drama-free and resentment-free culture.
Here’s more from Lowe on the Blazers:
- The Blazers’ late owner Paul Allen, who passed away last month, addressed the team in the wake of its first-round exit, calling the four-game sweep “unacceptable,” sources tell Lowe. Based on the language and the tone, people within the organization were nervous that a major shakeup was coming during the offseason.
- Allen was ultimately convinced to give everyone – including Stotts and the Blazers’ core – one more season, while team management and coaches vowed to make changes heading into 2018/19. Namely, as Lowe details, Portland wanted to surround Evan Turner with more shooting on the second unit, re-shuffle the rotation to get Lillard and McCollum more playing time together, and get off to a faster start this season. So far, that plan is going well.
- The Blazers still want to find a way to supplement their Lillard/McCollum duo with a third impact player, sources around the NBA tell Lowe. Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic have emerged as perhaps Portland’s most valuable trade chips, but the club doesn’t want to trade Collins and “almost certainly won’t” anytime soon, Lowe reports.
- Lowe identifies Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris as the type of player who would appeal to the Blazers, though acquiring either of those guys in a trade or as a free agent would be an extreme long shot. Forwards like Otto Porter of the Wizards and Taurean Prince of the Hawks may be more realistic trade targets, Lowe notes.
- Lillard still believes the Blazers are capable of reaching greater heights during his tenure with the team. “Good things come to good people, even if you get swept somewhere along the way,” he tells Lowe. “This is what goes through my mind: I’m gonna be in my 11th year or something here, I’m gonna stick with it, and we’re gonna make the Finals.”