After his first year as an NBA head coach resulted in last season’s 27-55 train wreck, Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups is faring much better in his second year on the job.
After Portland’s rollicking 10-4 start, Billups was even gaining steam in an early campaign for Coach of the Year — chatter that has since quieted after the Blazers endured a mini slump. Still, sitting at 14-12 and sixth place in the Western Conference, Billups has the Blazers at a decent spot with more than a quarter of the season played.
In a recent piece for Yahoo Sports, NBA writer Vincent Goodwill went in length about Billups’ coaching, background and impact on his players. In Year Two, Goodwill wrote Billups has already implanted a new identity to this Blazers squad, one that comes with more defensive fervor.
The Blazers have gone through a pretty rough portion of the schedule and have forged a defensive identity that hasn’t been present over the past decade.
But with the way this roster has been transformed over the past year or so, there’s a feeling that it will be more playoff-ready. On the floor, of course, everything revolves around Lillard. Players such as Josh Hart augment the defensive pressure the Trail Blazers want to apply.
He’s also established his own identity as a players’ coach, but one who will ride his players hard. Goodwill wrote there’s a meticulousness in Billups’ approach that was strongly forged by Larry Brown, Billups’ head coach with the Detroit Pistons.
And the direction comes from the second-year coach, who spent most of his first year teaching and figuring out that he can be as meticulous as that head coach who gave him fits.
“I lost a lot of sleep [with Brown],” Billups said. “I knew how that made me feel. I don’t want my guys to feel that way. Now, they’re gonna be upset with me at times. Because the truth don’t always feel good, no matter how much you finesse it. But they know how much I care, and they know it’s coming from the right spot. Which allows them to have some patience.”
It’s an intense, no-bull style that has been welcomed by Lillard from the get-go.
In their first conversation as coach and star player, Billups asked Lillard an important question, one he repeated to Anfernee Simons and others on the Trail Blazers’ roster: “How do you want me to coach you?”
Lillard’s reply was easy: “Coach me hard.”
“That’s what I come from, my teachers and father figures in my life were very particular people,” Lillard said. “It wasn’t strict. I wasn’t sheltered. [But] it was one way for it to be done. You just got to trust it, the fact that my intention is right, and I want the best for you. When you’re trying to get that type of point across, it’s not always gonna be gentle. It’s not always gonna be, you know, welcoming. It’s not always gonna be warm, but it’s coming from the right place.”
Other players have also appreciated Billups’ approach, including Simons, who took off with more playing time and Billups’ guidance last year. Jerami Grant, who’s enjoying a career season in his first stint as a Blazer, had this to say about his new head coach:
“He’s very precise. He knows what he wants,” Grant said. “He knows how to win. It’s perfect. You know it’s coming from a good place. I love it. … We have a bunch of underdogs here. It’s how we got off to a good start. Now we gotta make a few adjustments [to stay ahead].”
With their new coach and identity, Lillard sees similarities between the Blazers and last year’s Boston Celtics team, who shook off a slow start to reach the NBA Finals.
Lillard sees what the Celtics did last season as a blueprint: A few high-level scorers who committed themselves to the defensive end, caught fire after a shaky start and rode that to a Finals berth.
“Obviously, it’s different, but I have thought that to myself,” Lillard said. “They weren’t bad at the beginning of the season but eventually figured it out. They had two guys who could fill it up and wing depth. They were tough. They were coached hard. And because of that, they found themselves in position where you have a chance to win a championship.
“I see a similar thing for us.”
You can read Goodwill’s full piece here.