As the Trail Blazer season came to an end Thursday night, fans flooded social media with requests for the team to add “more help for Dame.”
Possible trade scenarios were offered, a good share of them absurd or impossible.
But in light of all that, here is something else to ponder:
The Trail Blazers, five-point favorites heading into Game 6, lost a game and a series where its opponent, the Denver Nuggets, had much less “help” for their superstar, Nikola Jokic, than Portland had for Damian Lillard.
Sure, they usually have Jamal Murray, who is out for the season with a knee injury. But the point is, they DID NOT HAVE Murray in this series. Nor did they have their other starting guard, Will Barton.
And yet they took the Blazers out in six games.
And consider the Dallas Mavericks, who are one win shy of knocking off the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
How much help does their superstar, Luka Doncic, have? The Blazers surround Lillard with way more talent than Doncic has at his disposal.
You could say the same thing in Phoenix, where the only thing remotely close to a superstar helping Devin Booker is an aging Chris Paul, who is – as always – having trouble staying healthy during this playoff run and averaging just 9.2 points per game.
The point of this isn’t to disparage those teams or players, it’s to point out that sometimes the biggest help to a superstar is a smart head coach who isn’t afraid to demand excellence from his players.
And one who knows how to best use his roster.
Last off-season, the Blazers brought in Derrick Jones Jr., a young and very athletic defender who was a starter through the first 41 games of the season,
Then he was relegated to a bench role for a few games before just dropping out of the rotation entirely. He played just a little more than 10 total minutes in the six playoff games.
At first, his absence opened the door for former first-round pick Nassir Little. But that didn’t last long, either.
Little showed flashes of improvement, but his playing time didn’t last long, either, as Coach Terry Stotts reverted to an eight-man rotation down the stretch of the season and in the playoffs.
Little played fewer minutes than Jones in the postseason.
All while the Nuggets were torching the Blazers in the playoffs with the likes of Monte Morris and Markus Howard.
Stotts, who has always struggled with getting young players consistent playing time, finally got Anfernee Simons into his regular rotation after Gary Trent Jr. was traded to Toronto at the deadline.
But as Simons developed into the team’s most consistent three-point shooter, he did not get nearly enough opportunities to use that skill to help the team win.
Simons shot 42.6 percent from three-point range this season and boosted that to a whopping 61.1 percent in six playoff games.
In the playoff-ending loss to the Nuggets Thursday, he was 3-3 from three-point distance – but did not get ANY shots in the second half of the game!
Stotts has always been known as a players’ coach. He is, by all accounts, very easy to play for. And sometimes players take advantage of such coaches. He finds players he likes, puts them in a rotation and lets them go -- seldom making adjustments from quarter to quarter or even game to game. His team has been predictable to a fault.
His two best players take more than 50 percent of the team's shots, yet other players are supposed to cover for them at the defensive end.
I do not believe Stotts will return next season and I do believe this roster deserves a chance to make progress under a new, innovative and more-demanding head coach.
Yes, Damian Lillard does need more help. Even good leaders need good leaders.