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Terry Stotts: Portland's Coach for Life?

Terry Stotts has done an impressive job in Portland so far. Could he become the next Gregg Popovich?

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

NBA coaching is a transient experience. Of 321 head coaches listed in the Basketball-Reference Coach Register, only 48--roughly 1 in 7--have accumulated 10 or more years on the bench in their entire careers. 9 of those hold jobs currently. Of those, 4 are in transition...either coming off of a lost job or on the short list to vacate their posts this summer. This includes the most experienced active coach in the league, George Karl, whose 27 years of service have been spread among 7 franchises.

If you enter high school as a fan of an NBA franchise, chances are your team will have a new head coach before you graduate. Or, put in basketball terms, the first-round pick you draft today will probably have a new head coach before his rookie contract expires.

In the midst of this turmoil come a few coaches who fit their franchises so well that their names become synonymous with the organization. You already know their names: Gregg Popovich, Jerry Sloan, Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, Doug Moe. They buck the trend, holding steady with the same team through multiple incarnations, given a lifetime pass and allegiance by their owners, if not the fan base.

Terry Stotts has been with the Portland Trail Blazers for three and a half years now. His tenure is short, but the team's performance has exceeded expectations and he's proven his character and intelligence multiple times over. No coach since Rick Adelman has felt so "Portland", nor kept his team so far above the (admittedly modest) curve. Given that, we asked our staff to respond to the following question:

From what you've seen of Terry Stotts on the court and what you know of him off the court, should he become Portland's de facto lifetime coach in the vein of Gregg Popovich in San Antonio? Would you be comfortable with the Blazers saying, "We know a good thing when we see it and you're our man no matter what the personnel, no matter what the era"?

Here's how they responded...

Updated to include response from akicks (Feb. 16, 10:58 am):

Eric Griffith | @DeeringTornado

The answer to this roundtable question is easy: YES!

Terry Stotts has been the Blazers head coach for four seasons and the team has outplayed expectations in three of those seasons, with last year's injury plagued nose dive being the only exception. Even in 2012-2013 the team held an impressive 25-23 record in February.

This year Stotts has, somehow, maintained a top-10 offense despite losing nearly his entire rotation. He has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to identify strengths of his players and then exploit those talents to form a group that defines "a whole greater than the sum of its parts." Players like Robin Lopez and Al-Farouq Aminu have come to Portland and immediately and significantly outplayed expectations.

No coach on the open market, Luke Walton or otherwise, would have gotten more out of his players than Stotts has so far. He’s a good enough coach to hold on to through the rebuild and beyond.

David MacKay | @DavidMacKayNBA

Stotts should coach the Blazers long-term, without a doubt. What he's been able to do in this restructuring is no anomaly. Let's not forget that he kept one of the shallowest Portland rosters (maybe ever) playoff relevant through March in his first year here. Once upon a time, the Blazers didn't have an Allen Crabbe or an Ed Davis to help off the bench, but Stotts still made it work with a Luke Babbitt and a Jared Jeffries (while starting J.J. Hickson at center). If that's not a testament to being greater than the sum of one's partsas Eric pointed outI don't know what is. That's something you only get consistently from great coaches.

Reeling back in to present day, is anyone surprised that the Blazers are, once again, better than they were "supposed to" be? Stotts' flow offense and mindful lineups have turned what was a spacing nightmare on paper into the 7th best offense in the NBA, with shooters galore. He'll get painted as an offense-only coach for a while, but the team's defense is coming around just as it did last season, when the Blazers were a top-10 defensive team. Already, the Blazers have quietly climbed from one of the league's worst defensive squads to the 18th spot, with a defensive rating of 106.6, just barely below the league average.

As the team grows, I can think of no better coach than Stotts to captain it. He has always had the respect of the players, and I trust him to bring out the best in each of them; now and for many seasons to come. Personally, I can picture a Western Conference Finals appearance in 3-5 years. I guess one could screenshot this and save it if they were so inclined to savor a "gotcha" moment, but we're all friends here. With Stotts as coach, does anyone find that level of success utterly unreasonable? If the answer is no, keeping him around as long as possible is a no-brainer.

Brandon Goldner | @GoldnerPDX


Terry Stotts may not be the most creative coach - his offenses have a distinct Stotts-ness to them no matter the cast - but is that such a bad thing? Give him a bucket full of spare parts and he can cobble together a top-10 offense, and (as we've seen with at least a few different teams) a respectable defense.

He can also effectively manage different lineups and different kinds of players. The transition from the ISO-heavy LaMarcus Aldridge era has melded pretty seamlessly into a two-prong guard attack, even when most of the starting lineup changed. But that's not why the Blazers should lock him up long term. It's because Stotts wants a team whose "whole is greater than the sum of its parts," and gets his players (even his stars) to buy into it, permanently, and without mental fatigue.

It's this which makes Stotts a coaching rarity: he's commands the respect and attention of his players without wearing out his welcome. Seriously, has even one current or former Blazer thrown shade at Stotts? Ever? Not that I can remember. And while you don't want your coach to be buddies with the players, that's not the dynamic: Stotts is unequivocally the coach, but he motivates in ways that GIVE energy, not sap energy.

Stotts has a mural of legendary Blazers Coach Jack Ramsay in his office, along with this Ramsay quote: "Teams that play together beat those teams with superior players who play more as individuals." Stotts personifies this in a way we haven't seen in many years, and whatever success he earns will come through putting this philosophy into action through his coaching.

Chris Lucia | @ChrisLucia_BE

I think Stotts is the long-term answer in Portland for all the aforementioned reasons. Gerald Henderson and Aminu -- two guys with 13 total years of NBA experience between them -- are both on pace to destroy their respective career 3-point shooting percentages. That's just one example, and it's no fluke.

I'd also like to mention the time Blazer's Edge user akicks met Stotts because the coach was a fan of his handiwork.

This is what I said about Stotts in my 2013-14 Blazers season preview with Dave, and these sentiments from back in October of 2013 still hold true today:

...Admittedly, when his name was first brought up in the [2012] coaching search, I thought, "Who's this re-tread from Milwaukee?" But then he brought that motion-based, floor spreading offense that the players really seem to have bought into, and it's because he's not forcing square pegs in round holes; if Aldridge feels more comfortable jump shooting, he's got that freedom, for example.

And not to gush about Stotts too much, but he just seems like such a good dude, ya know? Hearing his interviews and interactions with the media and fans is always fun because he's straightforward but lighthearted, something Sarge may have been a bit too robotic for at times.

What can I say? I like Stotts, and it looks like I'm hardly alone. Paul Allen, Neil Olshey and Chris McGowan would be wise to keep him around.

Timmay | @BedgeTimmay

I'm not a Portland Trail Blazers coach's best friend. I've soured on every one since Rick Adelman. PJ Carlesimo? My least favorite Blazers coach ever, a very loud, square peg for a round hole. Mike Dunleavy? Could be worse, but felt like he could have gotten more from the team. Maurice Cheeks? Please. Nate McMillan? The most overpaid coach in NBA history until Derek Fisher. Coach Kaleb gets a pass.

But Terry Stotts? Don't let this guy get away.

I don't see Stotts as the Blazers' Gregg Popovich or Pat Riley. I see him as the Blazers' Rick Carlisle. Or Jerry Sloan. Someone who doesn't dabble in the front office, but is a proven-quality coach, and has the backing of the front office and owner. Every player knew that, if you disagreed with coach Sloan, he had management's backing. In Dallas, good luck going to Cuban about Carlisle.

For the first time in a long, long time, the Blazers look like they're stable in the front office. Terry Stotts has shown he's learned from his previous coaching stints. He's embraced both statistical analysis and the personalities of modern players, which has led to year after year of over-achieving teams. And that's not even getting into how freakin' likable and friendly the dude is. That's the kind of coach that inspires a front office to make a commitment. And I expect them to do so this summer.

Finally, the Blazers have a coach that even a curmudgeon like me can get behind.

akicks| PhotoStotts guru

I've admired Coach Stotts from a distance since nearly the moment he arrived in Portland. His Xs and Os and player management skills are there for all to see. It is the little things though that show you the measure of the man.

I've been doing my Photostotts images since early last season. Through those images I've been fortunate to meet Coach Stotts. He was great in person and very kind to my kids, a fantastic memory I'll treasure.

That was in front of a camera, publicized by the Blazers media department. It felt very genuine, but it was also for publicity. Last week though I received a personal email from Coach Stotts. It was brief, simply stating that he was still enjoying the Photostotts images. It left quite an impression on me. No cameras, no publicity, no benefit to him. Just an opportunity to give a fan a metaphorical high-five.
Completely unnecessary and just really a nice thing to do.


Trivia Question: Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of Stotts smiling during game action?

Answer: Darn near impossible.

In any case, you heard what our staff said. How about you? Would you be OK with Stotts at the helm for the foreseeable future? Why or why not? Respond below.

As you're doing so don't forget that we've already donated over 1400 tickets so underprivileged children and youth can see the Portland Trail Blazers face the Sacramento Kings on March 28th. We're trying to get that number to 2000. We give them directly to schools, coaches, counselors, and others who work with kids in need. It makes a huge difference! Can you help out with a ticket or two?

Donating is easy. Just click here and use the promo code:


Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)

You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.

Also...with 2000 tickets on the horizon we will probably have room to say "yes" to a few more people. We've had requests for entire grade levels at some schools and request from grandmothers who have one grandchild they'd really like to take. We honor those and everything in between. If you work with underprivileged youth or children and would like to request tickets, my e-mail is right below.

--Dave / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge