By the time this column is published, one of two things will have happened: The Portland Trail Blazers will have wisely walked away from hiring Chauncey Billups as head coach (which didn’t happen), or the entire organization will be trying to come up with a good reason about why they picked Billups from a solid pool of candidates.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that Becky Hammon should be the next Portland head coach. I referenced Billups among the other candidates and said that he would probably make a good head coach, but not for the Blazers right now. It’s still true, but for more reasons than I imagined at the time.
After writing that, I became aware of serious sexual assault allegations against Billups, dating back to his rookie season in the NBA in 1997. Those allegations were settled out of court. The details are incredibly disturbing, and the Blazers front office has many questions to answer why they felt that history should be overlooked when hiring Billups.
But the Blazers front office and Chauncey Billups are not the only ones to have explaining to do here. Damian Lillard, the Blazers star and franchise cornerstone, supported two candidates for the job. The first, Jason Kidd, was previously charged with domestic abuse and DUI. He withdrew from the coaching search and has now been named coach of the Dallas Mavericks. The second was Billups.
What makes those two worthy of promotion by the team’s star? Why would an organization whose owner has settled her own sexual harassment claims think hiring another person with even worse claims in their background is a good idea? The Blazers had their pick of veteran or up-and-coming coaches to make their head coach. They had an opportunity to make history and keep what should be an exciting team moving forward. Instead, they have chosen to go for the lowest common denominator.
It’s a rare day that I find myself agreeing with John Canzano. But the Oregonian columnist is right: The Blazers have blown this hire from every possible perspective and brought about needless self-inflicted wounds in the process.
There is no “wokeness” or “but what about…” defenses needed here. It just comes down to the basics of being a good and decent human being. It quite simple, really: As a rule of thumb, when you have a chance to promote someone with sexual assault allegations in their background or hire equally or more qualified candidates that don’t- hire one of the candidates without the sexual assault allegations. That seems like a pretty low bar to clear, but the Blazers, Lillard, and many of their supporters who endorse the hiring have managed to trip over it. Just because the team’s owner has sexual harassment claims in her background or other teams in the league have hired coaches with problematic pasts does not mean yet another person with a history involving sexual abuse should be added to the ranks.
In a tweet Sunday, Lillard said he was not aware of the Billups history involving sexual assault. That’s fair, as neither did many other people. But it’s also not a defense.
He does know now.
The Blazers know now.
Making a decision out of ignorance is defensible. Choosing to make the hire while knowing about the assault is not.
It’s a bad look for the Blazers, who had the chance to land truly groundbreaking candidates, a bad look for the team’s star, a bad look for the league. It should leave a bad taste in the mouth of fans of the Blazers, fans of basketball, and fans of people not committing domestic abuse or sexual assault.
The Blazers, and the NBA as a whole, can, should, and must do better.