Today marks the 10-year anniversary of head coach Terry Stotts’ tenure beginning with the Portland Trail Blazers.
On this date, August 7, 2012, Portland hired Stotts to replace interim head coach Kaleb Caneles, who had taken the position after Nate McMillan’s firing in March. For the first time in four seasons that year, Portland missed the playoffs.
After seven years with McMillan in charge, the Stotts hire marked a new era in Portland. That offseason coincided with the arrival of general manager Neil Olshey and rookie point guard Damian Lillard, taken by the Blazers with the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In nine seasons, Stotts guided Portland to a 402-318 record, making him the second-winningest coach in franchise history behind the great Dr. Jack Ramsay.
Aug 7 2012 - #TerryStotts is named @trailblazers 14th head coach.— Blazers History (@77Blazers) August 7, 2022
Stotts would coach #Blazers to 402-318 record over 9 season. Only @Hoophall member #JackRamsay coached or won more games in Portland (10 seasons & 453 wins)#RipCity #thisdateBlazersHistory pic.twitter.com/c8vOlVoslH
Together, Stotts and Lillard only missed the playoffs one time — that debut season in 2012-2013. The next eight seasons saw eight consecutive playoff appearances, two Western Conference semifinals appearances and a conference finals berth in 2019.
In Stotts’ second season, with a roster featuring Lillard and veterans Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland won its first playoff series in 14 years. The Blazers dispatched the Houston Rockets in six games behind Lillard’s series-clinching, buzzer-beating three-pointer.
The second playoff series victory during the Stotts’ tenure came during the 2016-2017 season. Despite Aldridge leaving town in free agency, prompting a roster teardown, Portland made the playoffs and upset the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. CJ McCollum emerged that season as the NBA’s Most Improved Player, as Portland became defined by its dangerous offensive backcourt.
The third playoff series win came during the 2018-2019 season, the peak of Stotts’ career in Portland. Without starting center Jusuf Nurkic, the No. 3 seed Blazers knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder behind another series-clinching buzzer-beater from Lillard. Then Portland outlasted the Denver Nuggets in seven second round games to make its first conference finals appearance since 2000, losing to the Golden State Warriors in a sweep.
After a first round exit in 2020, a relatively healthy Portland team lost to an injury-depleted Nuggets roster in the 2021 first round. That offseason, Stotts and the Blazers agreed to “mutually part ways.”
Stotts’ legacy will forever be linked to Lillard. During their time together, Lillard grew to be arguably the greatest player in franchise history. In 2018, after Stotts was on the hot seat following an embarrassing first round sweep to the New Orleans Pelicans, Lillard vouched for his coach to keep his job. He will always be remembered as Lillard’s first NBA head coach and the leader on the sidelines during Lillard’s iconic playoff daggers. But with his offensive innovation, calm demeanor and Dr. Jack outfits, Stotts also etched his place in Blazers lore as one of the team’s greatest coaches. Under Stotts, the Blazers consistently showcased one of the league’s best offenses and finished above expectations, considering the rosters he was given.
After spending nearly a decade with the franchise, Stotts left the city with one final act of class, penning a heartfelt thank you letter to the organization and fans.