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Blazers Top 100: The Best Coach You Never Expected

A look at the 100 players and personnel who have influenced the Trail Blazers’ 50-year history.

Sacramento Kings v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.

No. 63 | Terry Stotts

Head Coach

Record with Blazers: 354-286 Regular Season, 19-32 Postseason

Awards: 7-time NBA Coach of the Month

Joined Club: August 2012

Departed Club: Currently Active

Place in History: General Manager Neil Olshey hired journeyman coach Terry Stotts in the summer of 2012—one of his first official moves—eyebrows raised. Stotts had a great pedigree as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks. His head coaching stints in Atlanta and Milwaukee had been mediocre. He didn’t have great talent to work with in either of those stops, but a cumulative 115-168 record didn’t exactly recommend him. Olshey cited Stotts’ ability to teach and claimed he was the right coach for a team that, at that point, had to rebuild. Smart money was on Stotts becoming a short-term stopgap, helping Portland’s younger players through transition, then giving way when they were ready to fly.

As it turns out, smart money was pretty dumb.

As of today, Terry Stotts has coached more games than anybody in Trail Blazers history except Jack Ramsay. He has the fourth-highest winning percentage of all Blazers coaches, trailing only Rick Adelman, Mike Dunleavy, and Mike Schuler, all of whom coached All-Star-laden teams. There’s an argument to be made that, factoring in circumstances, nobody but Ramsay has ever done it better on Portland’s sidelines.

Stotts’ teaching abilities were only the first part of the package. Back during the “Traveling All-Star Team” days of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Portland was the place where careers died. Players who prospered elsewhere (usually past their primes) would see a substantial reduction in production when they got to the Rose City. The teams were too crowded, the players not motivated. The opposite has been true of Stotts’ teams. More often than not, throughout Stotts’ tenure, the Blazers have gotten more out of players they’ve absorbed than the teams before or after them. Stotts has an eye for making the most out of player’s strengths, then fitting them into the team concept. This is particularly true on offense, where he’s been considered one of the finest minds in the game.

Stotts has done this while managing, and making room for, a pair of star guards in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. His teams have found the balance between letting them shine fully and keeping everyone else inspired.

Two teams have been exemplary of Stotts’ ability and style: the 2014-15 and 2018-19 squads. Whether LaMarcus Aldridge or Jusuf Nurkic provided the frontcourt pivot point, Lillard, McCollum, and defensive-minded ancillary players melded into an approach so beautiful, it hearkened back to the best of Ramsay’s tenure. Ball movement, recognition, shooting, defensive rotations, rebounding...those teams had it all. Both runs were shortened by injury, but for 60 games or so, Blazers fans got a view of Stotts Ball at its finest.

Stotts has done all this while leading constantly-rotating, often cobbled-together rosters. He’s taken on low-budget players, young players flailing in other systems, barely-recognizable centers, and a raft of reserve point guards. He’s not only made them look good, he’s won with them. Click through the Blazers rosters between 2012 and 2020. Forget stars and superstars; you’ll find few. Ask yourself how many of those players were reliable, let alone notable, before they got to the Blazers. Then look at the records and production. Stotts has done more with less than most coaches are able to.

700 games later, Stotts is still here, manning the bench, considered along with Lillard and McCollum one of the huge, never-ending bright spots of this era. He’s already made the list as one of the best coaches to ever cinch a tie on Portland’s sidelines. If the Blazers ever won a title under his watch, he would probably be considered the best, period.

For multiple years, for staying steady through the ups and downs, and for the glimpses of what basketball is supposed to be, Terry Stotts earns the 63rd spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 countdown.

Share your thoughts of, and appreciation for, Coach Stotts and the span of his career so far, and stay with us as we cruise all the way to #1!