In a season full of more downs than ups, the Portland Trail Blazers are starting to gel as a unit and find cohesion through wins and losses. Multiple factors come into play, but in an article posted today [subscription required] Jason Quick of The Athletic claims that the Blazers’ newfound bond lies largely at the feet of Head Coach Chauncey Billups.
One contributing factor is a togetherness and camaraderie being built among and between the players, as evidenced at team meals and gatherings:
“The first time we did it, guys ate, then started leaving,” Billups said. “And I’m always on them about being on their phones, and that night, I remember going around and teasing different guys ‘If you are going to be on your phone, you might as well have stayed in your room. I mean, what are we doing here?”’ But in Cleveland, Billups noticed more interaction. There was laughing. Debates. And after the meal, one table broke out into a card game. “It was snowing outside, the guys were staying longer, it was great,” Billups said. “It became a fun thing.”
Quick also writes that character is important to Billups, and it’s something he’s actively highlighting and encouraging with the team:
Scoot Henderson was building a Lego set with a child. Camara was eating with an elderly gentleman, having a conversation. Thybulle was talking smack with a child as they played Jenga. “I went to Scoot and told him, ‘Don’t ever not be that guy you are today,’” Billups said. “No matter how high you go in this league, never stop being you. And then I looked at Tisse, and he’s competing so hard with these two little kids, all of them talking stuff to each other, trying to win. And Toumani, and he was sitting with this elderly person and they were having this conversation … and I just love that.” But also, to mold a team into one takes a leader, and one that has everyone’s respect. The Blazers players say they have that in Billups.
This season (and frankly, every season so far with Billups at the helm) hasn’t quite gone according to plan. But the Blazers still find themselves 12th in the NBA in defensive rating, demonstrating tenacity and scrappiness in recent games, particularly since Malcolm Brogdon returned to the starting lineup from injury.
The Blazers are 6-13 on the year and 66-173 overall under Billups through his third season as head coach.