The Portland Trail Blazers have mutually agreed to part ways with Head Coach Terry Stotts according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The move comes after the Blazers fell 4-2 to the Denver Nuggets in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Stotts and the Blazers were coming off a 42-30 record, good for the 6th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs Bracket, but the first-round exit wasn’t enough to preserve his position.
Stotts joined the Blazers in 2012, the hire of then-incoming General Manager Neil Olshey. Stotts had spent two seasons apiece with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, never having experienced a winning season. He had also earned major credit as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks under Rick Carlisle, helping them to an NBA Championship in 2010-11. He was known for his offensive schemes and ability to relate to players.
Stotts’ first season coincided with the rookie year of point guard Damian Lillard, drafted 6th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Though the Blazers went 33-49 that year, Stotts coaxed great seasons out of Lillard and incumbent All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.
The following year, 2013-14, the Blazers earned a 54-28 record, made the playoffs, and advanced to the second round for the first time in 14 years, defeating the Houston Rockets in six games on the wings of a Lillard game-winning three. Between 2013-2015, the Aldridge/Lillard-led teams would exhibit the classic hallmarks of Stotts Ball: quick, unselfish offense, emphasis on three-pointers and shots at the rim, and a conservative defensive plan with a priority on stopping easy shots at the expense of open looks outside.
The Blazers posted another 50-win season and enjoyed a playoff appearance in 2014-15. That summer, Aldridge departed via free agency, joining the San Antonio Spurs, leaving his former team high and dry.
After Aldridge abandoned ship, the Blazers were expected to rebuild. Pundits forecast at least one 30-win season, if not multiple. Stotts and Lillard had other ideas. The coach gave the reins to his young star, while Lillard raced to see how fast he could pull them. The Blazers beat projections, winning 44 games in 2015-16 and advancing to the second round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs. The future looked bright.
From that point, results were mixed. The Blazers rode the backcourt duo of Lillard and CJ McCollum, adding center Jusuf Nurkic as a major player, but otherwise tinkering around the edges. Stotts’ teams still scored; with that guard duo, it’d be impossible not to. But the Blazers became defined as much by what they couldn’t do as what they could: intermittent defense, no fast break points, few turnovers generated, and an increasing reliance on the fickle three-point shot.
The late 2010’s were also typified by injuries to the roster. Portland experienced playoffs frustration against the Warriors and Pelicans, falling into consecutive series sweeps in 2017 and 2018. Nurkic suffered a broken leg in 2019 just as the Blazers were finally putting it together, hobbling an otherwise-successful defense (a long-awaited goal) and derailing a potential Top 2 finish in the West. Instead the Blazers finished third.
Incredibly, the Blazers flamed to life in the 2019 NBA Playoffs even without Nurkic, overthrowing the Oklahoma City Thunder with another Lillard miracle three, then battling past the Denver Nuggets in seven games, the last of which they won on the road. Long-time nemesis Golden State dumped Portland in the Conference Finals, but it was as far as the Blazers had gone in two decades. Once again, the future looked hopeful, but this would prove the apex of Stotts’ tenure.
Nurkic’s delayed return hampered Portland’s 2019-20 season. The Blazers required a near-perfect run through the Orlando COVID-19 bubble in the Summer of 2020 just to make the playoffs as an 8th seed. They drew the Los Angeles Lakers in Round 1. Despite Nurkic’s return and a Game 1 win, they fell to the eventual champions in five games.
Hope flared after the 2020 season ended, as now-President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey made major moves for the first time in several years, acquiring forwards Robert Covington and Derrick Jones, Jr., plus center Enes Kanter. These moves were supposed to solidify Portland’s defense and put them near, if not in, contention.
The Blazers struggled and surged alternately through the year, even after acquiring defensive-minded shooting guard Norman Powell from the Toronto Raptors at the trade deadline. Injuries bit them, as Nurkic went down, reappearing during the final third of the season. Their defense did not improve overall; in fact, it worsened. The obvious questions arose: If not now, then when? If not with these players, then with whom? Stotts stood squarely in the crosshairs of those queries.
The 2021 NBA Playoffs were seen as a possible point of redemption. The team was healthy, save for chronically-injured forward Zach Collins. They had offensive firepower, somewhat better defense with Nurkic back on board, and a beatable opponent in the injured Denver Nuggets. Instead of seizing the day, the Blazers fumbled away career performances from Lillard, drowning in a deluge of permissive defense, shoddy rebounding, missed shots, and frustration. Both Lillard and Nurkic indicated discontent after the defeat. The news came down soon after: the first domino to fall in response would be the Head Coach.
Stotts leaves the Blazers with a 402-318 record in 720 games, a .558 winning percentage. His teams made 8 playoffs appearances in his 9 years, advancing beyond the first round three times, reaching the Conference Finals once. Stotts amassed a 22-39 playoffs record with Portland, a .361 winning percentage.
Terry Stotts leaves as the second-winningest coach in Trail Blazers history. His 402 victories are only surpassed by legendary coach Jack Ramsay. He finishes with the fourth-best winning percentage for a head coach behind Rick Adelman, Mike Dunleavy, and Mike Schuler. He also owns Portland’s fourth-best playoffs winning percentage.