Much of the frustration surrounding the Trail Blazers’ 41-41 record during 2016-17 season has been leveled against President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey and the generous contracts he handed out last summer.
But could Head Coach Terry Stotts be just as responsible for the perceived subpar performance on the floor this past season?
Stotts the Cult Hero
In his five years with the Blazers, Stotts has clearly been a fan and player favorite, avoiding blame for any poor performances or unmet expectations.
His calm and affable personality, combined with entertaining offensive gameplans, have positioned him as one of the more loved coaches in recent Blazers history—at times bordering on cult hero status (see references to “Stottsfence”).
And why not? Aside from his first season in Portland, the Blazers have made the playoffs every year—twice reaching the conference semifinals—with records of 33-49 (2013), 54-28 (2014), 51-31 (2015), 44-38 (2016), 41-41 (2017).
His popularity reached new heights during the 2016 playoffs when the team surprised nearly everyone by reaching the second round of the playoffs after losing five of its six best players during the previous offseason.
The Ringer Thinks Stotts is “Running out of Allowance”
But while the run was a lot of fun, the team came crashing back to earth last season—an outcome that did not go unnoticed by the national media. In an article published by The Ringer this week, Haley O’Shaughessy suggests that Stotts is “Running out of Allowance” after last season and that the Blazers may need to consider jettisoning their popular head coach. She writes:
Stotts didn’t personally sign Portland’s checks last offseason, but he did coach the exact same core to a worse defense, worse overall record, and quicker postseason exit than the year before.
December was a low point, with the team going 4–11 and having the second-worst defensive rating, but Portland finagled its way to redemption by securing the last playoff seed in the Western Conference.
This season, nearly everyone in the West will be a juiced version of last year’s team except for the Blazers.
She raises a point that might need to be considered. The argument until recently was that the Blazers’ slow start was due to injury and a sense of complacency—an argument endorsed by Olshey during his exit interview press conference in late April.
“So I don’t know that, internally, we changed our perspective, but I think the players just naturally start thinking ‘Well, we’re a second-round playoff team,” says Olshey.
“And I think everybody got comfortable that we would just pick up immediately where we left off, and I wish we would have started four and seven instead of seven and four because then I think maybe the wakeup call would have come earlier.”
Should Stotts Be Worried About His Job?
While Stotts cannot be blamed for injuries or Evan Turner’s slow acclimation, could the lack of defense, combined with the perceived complacency land on the coach’s shoulders as well?
Further, it’s worth questioning whether Stotts is at least partially responsible for his team’s apparent lack of motivation last season. There were reports of a rousing half-time Stotts speech given to the players last November, which eventually produced a win against Denver in the mile-high city.
If this is fact and he did have the gravitas to inspire his players, why could it not be continued throughout the rest of November, December, January and February until the arrival of Jusuf Nurkic and resultant upswing in performance?
O’Shaughnessy is correct that Stotts did not lock up the team’s financial flexibility, but she is clearly questioning whether the coach could have done more with what he had. If Stotts’ squad again false starts in a western conference boasting improvement in almost every corner, how much of the blame will be apportioned to the head coach and how much to his boss?
Readers — Let us know what you think about coach Stotts in the comments below!