Trail Blazers

10+ candidates to replace Terry Stotts as Blazers head coach

Trail Blazers

For the first time in nearly a decade next season, the Portland Trail Blazers will have someone other than Terry Stotts as the franchise's head coach.

The Trail Blazers and Stotts agreed to part ways Friday, largely due to the team's inability to find any semblance of defense, and the team has begun the search for its next head coach entering Damian Lillard's age 31 season. 

Jason Kidd, who was a leading candidate to land the job, removed his name from consideration on Sunday because he was uncomfortable with the idea after Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports that “Jason Kidd is the guy I want.” 

So, the search continues.

Here are more than ten candidates the Blazers should (or might) entertain.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]

Chauncey Billups, Los Angeles Clippers Assistant Coach

Mr. Big Shot is best known for his years as a player, winning NBA Finals MVP with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and making five All-Star teams. Billups averaged 15.2 points per game in his 17-year career after being selected third overall by the Celtics in 1997.

Since retiring from the NBA in 2014, Billups has served as an NBA analyst for ESPN and has interviewed for multiple general manager openings. He was a finalist for the Indiana Pacers’ head coaching position last year before joining the Los Angeles Clippers as an assistant to Ty Lue. The 2020-21 season was Billups’ first on the bench as a coach, but his name has already been linked to the Celtics job.

 

He was floated as a name to watch by Adrian Wojnarowksi.

Jeff Van Gundy, Former NBA Head Coach

Van Gundy has not coached since the 2007 season for the Houston Rockets but holds a career 430-318 record, including coaching the 1990s Knicks to five conference semifinals, two conference finals and an Eastern Conference Championship. He has been a broadcaster for ESPN since being fired by Houston but has coached Team USA in the qualifying tournaments. 

The former NBA head coach has been linked to numerous vacancies in the last decade. 

He was floated as a name to watch by Adrian Wojnarowksi.

Mike D'Antoni, Brooklyn Nets Assistant Coach

After nearly winning a championship with the Houston Rockets in 2018, D'Antoni has served as the lead assistant for Steve Nash and the NBA title favorite Brooklyn Nets this season. 

While at Phoenix, he coached Steve Nash to back-to-back MVPs and nearly took down the Kevin Durant Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference Finals. It took an outlier 26-consecutive missed three-pointers for the Rockets to lose Game 7. 

He was floated as a name to watch by Adrian Wojnarowksi.

Juwan Howard, Michigan Wolverines Head Coach

The former Trail Blazer and NBA Champion found immense success already as the Michigan head coach, earning a No. 1 seed last season and finding success on the recruiting trail. It may be hard to lure him away from his alma mater, however.

He was floated as a name to watch by Adrian Wojnarowksi.

Steve Clifford, Orlando Magic Head Coach

With the Magic entering a long rebuild, Clifford may want to get out of that situation to coach a winning team in need of a defensive overhaul rather than watch RJ Hampton and Cole Anthony jack up three-pointers every night. 

If Orlando and Clifford decide to part ways, Clifford could be a home run hire for a franchise in need of improvement on defense. After taking over the Charlotte Bobcats (who finished with the worst win percentage in NBA history the season prior), Clifford coached them to a great defensive season and a playoff berth. 

Here are Clifford's defensive ratings as a head coach in the NBA prior to this season where the Magic tanked. 

2019-20: 11th 2018-19: 8th 2017-18: 17th 2016-17: 17th 2015-16: 9th 2014-15: 10th 2013-14: 6th (from 30th)

Johnnie Bryant, New York Knicks assistant coach

After Bryant spent six seasons in Utah under Quinn Snyder, Tom Thibodeau hired him to be his associate head coach in New York. While at the Jazz, he helped develop future All-Stars Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward and Donovan Mitchell. 

 

Bryant also served as Lillard's friend and mentor while Dame worked his way into an NBA Lottery pick at Weber State.

“That’s my big brother,” Lillard said per the Desert News. “I remember barely being in the seventh grade, getting ready for an AAU tournament and Johnny was in college at Utah and they would come back and scrimmage us on outside courts with no net.

“That type of struggle, that type of background and I’m happy to see his success as a coach as well,” he concluded in 2018.

Nate McMillan, Atlanta Hawks Interim Head Coach

The former Trail Blazers head coach completely turned around the Hawks from the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference at 14-20 to advancing to the second round. The series win over New York marked McMillan's first series win as a head coach since 2004-05. 

It seems highly likely McMillan will stay in Atlanta, but if the Hawks are scared of his lack of postseason success prior to this season, perhaps he enters the coaching market looking for a new job. 

Sam Cassell, Philadelphia 76ers Assistant Coach

Few players have had a better start to their career than Cassell, who won back-to-back titles to start his career with the Houston Rockets. He served as a respectable backup point guard in Houston before transitioning to starting roles with the Nets, Bucks, Timberwolves and Clippers. Cassell put a bow on his career by winning a title with the Celtics in 2008. He averaged 15.7 points per game in his 15-year run.

Cassell immediately got into coaching following his playing days. The Wizards employed Cassell from 2009 through 2014 before he joined Doc Rivers’ staff with the Clippers from 2014 to 2020. He followed Rivers to Philly for the 2020-21 season as an assistant for the Sixers where Philadelphia earned home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

David Vanterpool, former Trail Blazers Assistant Coach

Heavily credited with the development of Portland's backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the former Portland assistant coach could entertain a return to Rip City.

He will not be returning as the Timberwolves associate head coach next season, making him a free agent. Vanterpool has been a candidate for numerous head coaching vacancies in recent offseasons. However, he has yet to land one, much to the annoyance of Lillard and McCollum. 

[RELATED]: Dame & CJ think Vanterpool being a head coach "only a matter of time"

However, given the Blazers are moving away from the Stotts era, it seems unlikely Portland would name a former member of Stotts' staff to be his successor. 

Darvin Ham, Milwaukee Bucks Assistant Coach

Despite just averaging 2.7 points per game in his eight-year NBA career, Ham has ascended through the coaching ranks. He served as an assistant coach and later head coach with the G League’s New Mexico Thunderbirds (now the Canton Charge). Ham transitioned to the NBA as a player development assistant with the Lakers in 2011, working with the likes of Bryant and Dwight Howard.

 

Following his two-year run in Los Angeles, Ham joined Mike Budenholzer’s staff with the Atlanta Hawks. After five seasons, Ham moved to the Milwaukee Bucks with Budenholzer. The Bucks have had three of their most successful regular seasons in franchise history with Ham as an assistant, and he’s interviewed for multiple head coaching vacancies over the years.

Becky Hammon, San Antonio Spurs Assistant Coach

Hammon made history in 2014 when the Spurs made her the first woman to be a full-time, paid assistant in NBA history. Before joining the Spurs, Hammon played 16 seasons in the WNBA for the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars. After six All-Star appearances, Hammon called it a career in 2014.

Since being added to Gregg Popovich’s staff, Hammond has quickly risen up the bench. In December 2020, Hammon served as acting head coach when Popovich was ejected from a game against the Lakers, becoming the first woman to ever do so. Now, with seven seasons of NBA experience, Hammon could be in the mix for a head coaching job of her own.

She may be waiting to take over for Popovich once he retires, though. 

Wes Unseld Jr., Denver Nuggets Assistant Coach

The son of a Hall of Famer, Unseld Jr. followed his father’s footsteps in Washington to begin his coaching career. Wes Sr. played for Washington from 1968 to 1981 then coached there from 1987 to 1994. Wes Jr. worked for his father, then the Wizards’ general manager, as a scout starting in 1997. He moved into an assistant coach role from 2005 to 2011 before leaving for the Warriors.

After working for the Warriors and Magic from 2011 to 2015, Unseld Jr. joined the Denver Nuggets. He was promoted to lead assistant under Michael Malone in 2016. Unseld Jr. has been interviewed for head coaching jobs since 2019, finishing as the runner-up for the Bulls job last season.

2021 could be the year he leaps into the big chair.

Kaleb Canales, Indiana Pacers Assistant Coach

Having received an endorsement from former Portland Trail Blazers LaMarcus Aldridge, Canales could be a candidate who makes sense for the team.

He spent seven seasons with the team starting in 2005 as a video intern and emerged as an interim coach in 2012, and was a finalist for the vacant position that year after the team parted with Nate McMillan.

Terry Stotts could eventually get that job.

Since then, Canales has also spent time with the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks.

Ime Udoka, Brooklyn Nets Assistant Coach

Udoka may have the most Portland ties of any possible candidate, and the support of one of the team’s best players.

 

He graduated from Jefferson High School and Portland State before joining the Blazers during the 2006-’07 season, Aldridge’s rookie season in the league.

Udoka’s other experience in the league outside includes Philadelphia, along with Brooklyn and Portland.

Logan Reardon contributed to this story.