For the eighth-consecutive postseason, the Trail Blazers fell short of their championship-sized expectations when the Denver Nuggets defeated Portland in six games to eliminate them from playoff contention.
Another brutal first-round exit.
Despite acquiring Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. last offseason, trading for Norman Powell at the NBA’s trade deadline, seeing a healthy Jusuf Nurkic on the floor and having a dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum at full strength, Portland enters the offseason with more questions than answers.
One of the biggest storylines looming so far is who will be the Blazers next head coach following the departure of Terry Stotts, Portland's second-winningest coach in franchise history.
On Monday, Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey addressed the media for the first time since the team’s bitter ending to the season and shared what led to the “mutual” decision to part ways with their coach of nine years.
“I think we reached a ceiling with the team,” Olshey said. “It was not an easy decision, obviously, you know how I feel about Terry. Multiple people participated in the process, but we entered the season and we felt like we really needed to show improvement on the defensive end of the floor, we needed to advance in the playoffs, and the decision was pretty much made.”
Olshey detailed the factors that went into the team’s decision, including the Blazers finishing the season with a defensive rating of 115.3, which ranked as the second-worst rating in the NBA. He also noted Portland losing to a Denver squad that was without Jamal Murray, Will Barton and PJ Dozier.
Following the Blazers fourth first-round exit in the last five years, Olshey collaborated with Stotts and his agent, Warren LeGarie, to discuss possible exit options that would best position Stotts so that he could possibly take advantage of one of the head coach openings around the league.
“They felt like doing it immediately would give him the best opportunity to enter the marketplace and potentially find another franchise,” Olshey added.
Moments later, Olshey picked up the phone to call Damian Lillard.
“Once I informed Terry, the first phone call was to Dame prior to it being made public so that he would be the first person to know that the decision has been made to make a coaching change,” he said.
The New York Times’ Mark Stein reported that the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers have already expressed interest in hiring Stotts. As for Portland, the search for the next head coach will begin soon, but Olshey said it won’t move quickly.
Olshey says the Blazers will have an “expansive and diverse search,” with around 20-25 potential candidates. Portland has yet to reach out to any teams or agents for formal interviews, but the first round of interviews could begin in the coming days based on availability.
A few names have already been circulating the web including Chauncey Billups, Mike D'Antoni, Juwan Howard and Jeff Van Gundy. Jason Kidd was also reported to be Damian Lillard’s preferred choice, but he has since withdrawn his name from the Trail Blazers coaching search.
The Trail Blazers superstar will be embedded into the search process for Portland’s next head coach, but he won’t be the only one.
“I’ve always encouraged participation from our players wherever I’ve been because they bring a critical lens to any process involving players or coaches that we don’t necessarily have,” Olshey said.
“Obviously, Dame’s opinion is very important…we very rarely make a big free agent decision, very rarely make a trade without his participation, and his insight, and that’ll be the same thing.”