The teacher of the Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts and why the players love him

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The teacher of the Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts and why the players love him

NEW YORK –Much has been made about the Trail Blazers’ airtight chemistry inside the locker room, but the players say perhaps an even more important and unspoken bond has emerged that explains this season’s emergence as a playoff contender.

In a relationship that is rare, if not unique, the Trail Blazers have embraced their coach, Terry Stotts, and declared an unwavering commitment to him and his style.

 “I always want to play hard for him,’’ reserve big man Ed Davis said. “That’s one thing I can say: Everybody on this team can play for Coach,  and it’s not like that on every team.’’

Added star Damian Lillard: “He is perfect for the team we have. I love having him as a coach.’’

That feeling for Stotts, and that commitment to playing for him has been reflected in one of the NBA’s most amazing developments: The Blazers (33-28) have won nine of 10, 15 of 18 and have placed themselves firmly in the playoff race with 21 games to go.

On Tuesday, the NBA honored Stotts as the Western Conference Coach of the Month after the Blazers went 9-2 in February.

“He should be in the running for Coach of the Year,’’ Davis said. “Especially if we make the playoffs; it should be a no brainer that he is Coach of the Year.’’

So how has Stotts taken the third youngest roster in the NBA, that needed to replace four of its five starters, with a collection of players that make up the league’s lowest payroll, to these heights?

The players say it has been a collection of honesty, communication and smarts from the 58-year-old coach.

He came to Portland nearly four years ago, figuring this would probably be his last opportunity to lead a team. When he arrived, he had the reputation as a brilliant offensive mind who had an affable and easy-going style with players.

But if anybody thought that meant Stotts would be a pushover, or milquetoast, they haven’t seen the job he has done this season.

With his players he has been equally blunt, approachable and hard.

Lillard, the unquestioned star and leader of the team, said Stotts has called him out in front of the team in video sessions. Meyers Leonard said he recently walked into Stotts’ office to ask why he had suddenly been benched. And CJ McCollum remembers how the team’s January practices suddenly became rigorous and monotonously focused on defense.

“He is a selfless coach, a consistent coach, an even keeled coach,’’ Lillard said.

Leonard said he had the comfort level to easily walk into Stotts' office recently and ask him why he wasn't playing. Stotts, Leonard said, was direct and honest in telling him his approach to playing against small lineups. 

"Terry will talk to you. He will tell you why he is making decisions. It's in the best interest of the team,'' Leonard said. "That communication helps. It was very cut and dried. The thing is, he genuinely wants everybody to do well.''

There has long been an unspoken divide among coaches and players when it comes to improving players. Coaches call pointing out mistakes or flaws coaching; players call it criticism or nitpicking.

In Portland, that difference in interpretation famously came to a head when Darius Miles confronted coach Maurice Cheeks in a film session in such a fashion that he was sent home and later suspended by the team.

Stotts, players say, has mastered the art of identifying mistakes and shortcomings by combining the criticism with positive reinforcement.

It showed when Stotts emerged from the holidays with a game plan to improve the team’s defense during a series of January home practices. He knew he couldn’t only hammer them with video of the guards being toasted, and the bigs being indecisive on pick-and-rolls.

So he blended the Blazers’ bad defensive plays with examples of when the Blazers played good defense. And he showed examples of how other team’s played effective defense against the Blazers.

“He broke down the film,’’ McCollum said. “He showed us where we are at, how we have been defending and what we are capable of.’’

It was hard to watch at times. Lillard used the word “embarrassing” to describe how it is to see your errors played in front of the team. But the key was it was never a belittling. It was a coach urging his players to get better, while also showing them examples of them doing it before.

“Everybody knows when you watch film, and you think you are doing one thing and the film shows you doing something else, it’s kind of embarrassing,’’ Lillard said. “Then when you see yourself doing the right thing, that’s how I want to see myself. That’s how I want to look.’’

Stotts then gave the team a carrot. He told them they could be a playoff team if they accepted and adopted a commitment to defense.

The test of that commitment would come in the ensuing practices. He drilled them over and over and over. Nothing was allowed to slide.

“Man, he harped on it for a while. Every day in practice he preached it. Every day. Every day,’’ Davis said.

But the players gave him effort. They took his criticism. They listened to his coaching. There was a reason: they liked and respected him.

“If you have a d***head coach, you just don’t care,’’ Davis said. “It’s like if you have a boss you don’t like, you might not give 110 percent effort every night because you don’t like him. But he’s a personable guy. He’s himself. And I think him just as a person translates and players respond well.’’

Stotts in Portland has always taken great care into developing player relationships. He doesn’t like to reveal anything that goes on behind close doors with his players because he is fiercely protective of their privacy and the concept of team. And he never directs any attention to him or his coaching.

At the end of his first season, the team was in Los Angeles and thought it was busing to its final practice of the season. Instead, the bus pulled up to a theater, where Stotts had arranged a viewing of the Jackie Robinson movie “42.” At the time, he requested to not have that publicized, because it was a team event, and he didn’t want it to seem like he was bringing attention to himself.

Same thing with Tuesday in New York City, when he arranged a team trip to the 9/11 memorial, which moved several of the players. It was not done for publicity, but rather to educate and unite the team.

“NBA players are very astute,’’ Stotts said. “I think they respect honestly, they respect people being real and true to who they are. I think respect is the number one thing in coaching in this league. You need to have the respect of your team and your players.’’

When the NBA award was announced Tuesday afternoon, the players were tickled. McCollum immediately sent his coach a text message. And Davis felt something of a personal victory.

“I’m so happy for him,’’ Davis said. “I’m always happy when the good guys in this business get awards and accolades. He’s so deserving.’’

Lillard, who earlier this season presented Stotts with a game ball after his 150th victory in Portland, said there were no plans by the team to honor the manfor whom  they have come to care so much.

“I mean, Coach Stotts is not that kind of guy,’’ Lillard said. “He doesn’t want too much attention, he doesn’t want too much credit. He will probably say ‘Without you guys I wouldn’t be able to do it.’ That’s even more of a reason why he is more deserving of a coach.’’

Hours later, after the Blazers recorded their sixth consecutive road victory, a convincing 104-85 win over the Knicks, Lillard would have chuckled if he heard Stotts after he was asked about his award.

“As a coach, you understand all the parts that go into an award like that,’’ Stotts said. “I’m the first to understand it’s about the players and how they perform. You don’t get anything done in this league if the players aren’t doing what they do.’’

 

Damian Lillard attends Black Lives Matter protest in Portland

Damian Lillard attends Black Lives Matter protest in Portland

With a nationwide outcry against systemic racial injustice in the USA, police brutality and the death of George Floyd, NBA players across the nation have taken action on social media and been seen demonstrating in protests around the country.

Trail Blazers All-Star point guard was among the thousands of people in Portland on Thursday night participating in a peaceful protest throughout the city.

Lillard was first seen in a Twitter video from KOIN 6 photographer Richard Roberson protesting outside of Revolution Hall in SE Portland.  

Floyd, a black man, was killed on May 25th after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, planted his knee on Floyd's neck against the ground for more than eight minutes. Chauvin was later arrested and charged with third degree murder, which were later upgraded to second degree murder.

Three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder. 

Three memorial services over six days are planned in cities where Floyd was born, grew up and died.

Lillard marched through SE Portland and into downtown to South Waterfront Park. Lillard also took to Instagram as he walked through Portland on his Instagram live video. 

 

Phoenix Suns are way too excited to be included in NBA's return to play

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Phoenix Suns are way too excited to be included in NBA's return to play

On Thursday, the NBA Board of Governors voted and approved a 22-team return to play format and many are excited. Some more than others. 

The vote was 29-1 with the lone franchise dissenting being the Portland Trail Blazers. 

Of the teams participating include the 16 teams that currently hold a playoff position as well as the Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards.

One of the teams most excited about being able to participate are the Phoenix Suns, as seen in this incredibly extra hype video of their inclusion in a 22-team return to play format. 

WATCH

Wow! That was really something! And Suns fans were loving it. 

But, the Phoenix Suns have not been to the playoffs since the 2009-10 season when, yes, they beat the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs and lost in the Western Conference Finals to the LA Lakers. Since then, they’ve had one winning season, including five seasons of 30 wins or less and one season of less than 20 wins. 

So, the excitement is understandable, but the only trophy Phoenix will be bringing back from Orlando is a participation trophy.  

Caesars Sportsbook has the Suns at +50000, which is five times worse than what’s displayed in the Suns' video, but I doubt it stymies their excitement just to be included and not mathematically eliminated for once. 

The Trail Blazers have a long-shot to the championship, as well. They’re +7500. But, if there’s anyone you want taking a long shot, it’s Damian Lillard. 

Now, we understand that this can be used as fodder, so allow us to post on how Aron Baynes went off for a career-high against the Blazers. 

And how Kelly Oubre blew kisses at the Moda Center crowd. 

See you in Orlando, Phoenix Suns. 

Portland Trail Blazers' updated NBA Championship betting odds revealed

Portland Trail Blazers' updated NBA Championship betting odds revealed

With all signs pointing to the NBA returning this July, sportsbooks have released updated NBA Championship odds. 

According to Ceasars Casino & Sportsbook, the Portland Trail Blazers are longshots to win the NBA Finals this season at +7500

However, that is ahead of multiple teams that would have made the postseason if the NBA had returned straight to the postseason including the Eastern Conference No. 5 seed Indiana Pacers (+12500), Western Conference No. 8 Seed Memphis Grizzlies (+50000), and Eastern Conference No 8 seed Orlando Magic (+75000). 

On Thursday, the NBA Board of Governors approved a plan allowing the season to resume at Walt Disney World in Orlando under a 22-team format, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported.

The sportsbook has the Los Angeles Lakers as the favorites to win the championship at +200, but it's important to note that these odds account for which teams are likely to get the most bets. Given the size of the Lakers' fanbase, a sportsbook can offer odds for them at worse odds than they should statistically have and still get a lot of money due to fan bias. 

Trailing the Lakers in the tier of real championship contenders are the Milwaukee Bucks (+275) and Los Angeles Clippers (+325).

For the rest of the playoff field is the Boston Celtics (+1500), Houston Rockets (+1500), Toronto Raptors (+1700), Denver Nuggets (+2200), Philadelphia 76ers (+2500), Dallas Mavericks (+3500), Miami Heat (+4000), Utah Jazz who lost forward Bojan Bogdanovic for the season due to offseason wrist surgery (+6000), Oklahoma City Thunder (+6000) and the Brooklyn Nets (+6000). 

As for teams on the outside looking in the current playoff field, the New Orleans Pelicans stand out as heavy favorites given these odds with (+5000). Perhaps it's the Zion Williamson effect. Following the Pelicans, it's the Pheonix Suns (+50000), San Antonio Spurs (+100000), and the Sacramento Kings (+200000). 

Portland entered the season at +3500 to win the NBA Finals but an injury-riddled season hasn't gone as planned for Rip City.

However, with the return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins to the lineup, perhaps they can compete with anyone.

Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with host NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon, and Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri. 

The NBA's return to play format could be rife with schedule inequities

The NBA's return to play format could be rife with schedule inequities

The NBA has announced dates and teams for the resumption of its 2020 season, but there is still one big important factor that hasn’t been revealed, at least to the public:

The schedules for those six teams hoping to play their way into the 16-team playoff bracket.

Keep in mind, teams with schedules that featured games vs. non-playoff teams late in the interrupted season will lose their opportunity to play those teams. Any games included in their final eight scheduled for Orlando will have to be against the 22 teams that are there in the bubble.

Some of the six teams trying to play their way into the playoffs have already had the benefit of playing those softer teams. Some were awaiting the chance, but won’t get it because those teams won’t be in Orlando.

And some of the six may end up getting Washington or Phoenix on their eight-game schedule and others may not. This sets up serious inequities in the format.

I believe what should have happened is that the eight teams in contention for the two playoff berths should have played a round robin. Same schedule, same chances for advancement. Instead, the league has reportedly chosen to try to stick to original schedules as much as possible, even though eight games won't be enough to complete that full 82-game schedule.

It isn't going to make much sense. And in fact, Phoenix and Washington, the two unexpected teams added, did not have a realistic chance to climb into the 16-team field had the season not been halted. Nobody has explained why they were included.

An interesting question now will be answered when the eight-game schedule is revealed -- who gets to play Phoenix and Washington? Who gets to play Orlando, which wasn’t expected to have to protect its No. 8 spot in the weak Eastern Conference?

And the teams that do play them will most certainly prefer those games over contests versus some of the league powerhouses.

And that, in itself, could have been enough reason for a franchise to vote against 22 teams, rather than 20, playing in Orlando.

CJ McCollum commends Trail Blazers, Jody Allen for having a backbone

CJ McCollum commends Trail Blazers, Jody Allen for having a backbone

When the initial reports came out about the 29-1 Board of Governors vote in favor of the 22-team format to return to play, there was no mention of who that one team was that didn’t vote yes.

Since then, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Trail Blazers are the only team that voted against the 22-team format plan.  

While ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has added that the Blazers, "are eager to resume season, but chose to vote “No” because franchise believed there were more competitive and innovative formats on table -- including those that addressed 2020 NBA Draft lottery odds based on regular-season game results in Orlando."

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports also mentioned that Portland was in favor of the 20-team return to play, which means that would've eliminated teams from playing the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns.  

The Trail Blazers as a team have not commented on their vote; however, CJ McCollum has tweeted how much he appreciates the Blazers front office listening to their players.

We play for an ownership group that actually listens to its players and has a backbone. We voiced what we felt was the best option and they followed our lead. I commend our front office and Jody Allen. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum 

With the approved 22-team format by the Board of Governors, the player’s association will vote on the format Friday.

Under this plan, each team will play approximately eight ‘regular season’ games (roughly half the number of games they had still slated on their 2019-20 schedules).

In an effort to make it fair to the teams that were not in the playoffs at the time the league suspended play, such as the Blazers, there will be a "play-in tournament" if need be. So, if after the eight games, the ninth seed is closer than four games behind the eighth seed, a playoff will be held.

Trail Blazers reportedly only team to vote against NBA's return to play

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Trail Blazers reportedly only team to vote against NBA's return to play

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently laid out four options to resume play. A return with 16 teams directly to playoffs, 20 teams with group/stage play, 22 teams with games to determine seeding, play-in tournament for the final seed and a 30-game format with a 72-game regular season with play-in tournament. 

Thursday, the NBA Board of Governors approved the plan for a 22-team return to play in Orlando.

With the approved format, each team would play eight ‘regular season’ games, (roughly half the number of games they had still slated on their 2019-20 schedules). In an effort to make it fair to the teams that were not in the playoffs at the time the league suspended play, such as the Blazers, there will be a "play-in tournament" if need be. So, if after the eight games, the ninth seed is closer than four games behind the eighth seed, a playoff will be held.

Portland, Sacramento and New Orleans all currently sit three and a half games behind No. 8 Memphis.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Trail Blazers are the only team that voted against the 22-team format plan.  

 

The Trail Blazers have yet to comment on their vote. 

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Blazers, "are eager to resume season, but chose to vote “No” because franchise believed there were more competitive and innovative formats on table -- including those that addressed 2020 NBA Draft lottery odds based on regular-season game results in Orlando."

While Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports is reporting that Portland was in favor of the 20-team return to play, which means that would've eliminated teams from playing the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns.  

NBA Board of Governors vote, approve format for return to play

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NBA Board of Governors vote, approve format for return to play

After 12 weeks of no live basketball with the NBA world put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league has been navigating through these uncharted waters, while fans have been eagerly awaiting the NBA's decision on the 2019-20 season. 

On Thursday, the NBA Board of Governors approved a plan allowing the season to resume at Walt Disney World in Orlando under a 22-team format, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported

The plan passed by a 29-1 vote among teams, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania, who reported the Portland Trail Blazers were the lone dissenters.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a release. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts. We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”

There's still more hurdles before an official return to play, though.

The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices. The season restart is also contingent on an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to use Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, as a single site for a campus for all games, practices and housing for the remainder of the season. 

Here's what we know about the NBA's return to play so far: 

In addition to regular testing, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Wednesday that there will be various other medical protocols in place, including no guests permitted until the postseason, players not being allowed to shower in the arena and bench players sitting in spread-out rows. Still, the league and those who travel to Orlando would clearly be taking on health and safety risks by deciding to continue the season. 

The games will be played without fans. They will be televised with specific broadcast information yet to be announced.

Each team would play eight additional regular-season games, and the six teams involved that are not currently in a playoff position would be the Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards. If the ninth seed is within four games of the eight seed at the end of the regular season, there would be a play-in tournament to determine the final playoff spot. 

If teams are set to play one of the eight teams not included in the 22-team plan, they would move on to their next scheduled game.

The Trail Blazers currently in 9th place in the Western Conference standings, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies. Sacramento and New Orleans are also 3.5 games behind Memphis, but Portland holds the tiebreaker.

Here's key dates to keep in mind:

- Training camp: June 30

- Travel to Orlando: July 7

- Proposed start date: July 31st.

- The last possible date for Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be Oct. 12, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported. 

- The league's draft lottery will take place on Aug. 25 and the 2020 NBA draft will be held on Oct. 15, per ESPN

- Free agency begins: Oct. 18

-  Training camp for 2020-21 season begins: Nov. 10

- Opening night for 2020-21 season: Dec. 1 (can remain fluid)

The season has been suspended since March 11, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. The sports world has been a small sector of the population affected by a global pandemic. In the United States, there have been over 1.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 100,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus, according to NBC News.

NBA teams may get a month of practices before resuming season in Orlando

NBA teams may get a month of practices before resuming season in Orlando

As the basketball world awaits an official announcement possibly as early as today about the NBA's return, there has been a lot of speculation about why the NBA is reportedly waiting until July 31 to begin the resumption of the 2020 season.

Why not sooner?

A lot of it has to do with the welfare of the league’s players. There are still many health protocols to be decided, game schedules to be finalized and arrangements to be made in Orlando, where the teams plan to gather in their “bubble” to finish the season and playoffs.

Also, sources are saying that an effort will be made to give players plenty of time to get back into game shape after three months off.

One scenario that is being talked about is giving teams two weeks of practice at home in their own practice facilities before heading for Florida. These two weeks would not include contact work -- mainly just conditioning and basketball drills.

After those two weeks, all teams would move on to Orlando for two more weeks of practice, but this time with contact.

The idea would be that contact drills would not happen until players are cleared through testing and then ensconced in the “bubble.” That way, players can be frequently tested for the presence of COVID-19 when they are in the position of being most vulnerable to contracting the virus through contact with other players.

This scenario would mean teams would not get together for formal practice until late June or early July, Until then, players would continue their solitary workouts in their team’s practice facility -- but soon with a target date on when they would need to be ready to report for sanctioned team workouts.

CJ McCollum blasts Drew Brees for ignorant taking a knee comment

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CJ McCollum blasts Drew Brees for ignorant taking a knee comment

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees has been making headlines after saying he would disapprove of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem this upcoming season.

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance.

The 41-year-old quarterback explained that when he hears the National Anthem he thinks of his grandfathers that fought in the military and he believes taking a knee during the song would be disrespectful to the flag. 

Many people took to social media, finding the comments insensitive or ill informed with the nationwide outcry against systemic racial injustice in this country right now following the response to police brutality, and more specifically the death of George Floyd.

[RELATED]: Drew Brees called out by Oregon Ducks for opinion on taking a knee

These were Bree’s first comments in the wake of Floyd's killing last week. NBA superstar LeBron James shared his disbelief on such remarks from the NFL quarterback.

Trial Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum is the latest NBA star to post about Brees’ comments.

McCollum wrote, “We need more Aaron Rodgers and less Drew Brees. Ignorance is not an excuse. You have to hand off the ball and throw to those same teammates you refuse to stand up for.”

Earlier in the day, Rodgers had posted this to his Instagram:

A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game. It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action. -- Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on Instagram

[RELATED]: CJ McCollum shares thread of proof Beyoncé cheated on Jay Z for good reason

A handful of Brees' own teammates have also tweeted their disapproval of his comments including Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Alvin Kamara.