When a team struggles, some, if not most, blame goes to the coach. In the NBA last year, three coaches were let go. Many had Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups on that list, but he was retained for the upcoming season. Some pundits are calling for the Blazers to dump him, as his record with the team is 60-104. However, I would hold off on that. Let’s review why I would keep Coach Billups for at least a year more.
Chauncey Billups spent 17 years in the league as a point guard, most notably for the Detroit Pistons that won the NBA title in 2004. That team, built around himself, Rip Hamilton, Ben and Rasheed Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince, took the NBA by storm with their stifling defense and impressive team basketball on offense. There was no specific superstar on this team because every player had a particular role. After Billups’ retirement, he spent a year as an assistant coach to the Los Angeles Clippers under Ty Lue. The following season, Billups was hired as the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. Billups inherited a team with no identity other than Damian Lillard being their best player.
Over the next two years, the team struggled with injuries and trades, prohibiting the core from meshing together. Damian Lillard, once the pinnacle of health, had core injuries that affected his last two years. Jusuf Nurkic blew his entire knee out and was still recovering from that. CJ McCollum and Robert Covington, once mainstays in the lineup, were replaced with Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant. Many other role players filed in and out throughout the past two years, affecting a team’s morale. Think about this happening at your workplace. Day to day, the people you work with change every two to six months. Training new employees repeatedly can muddy any workflow you may have, which also goes for the Blazers. Team chemistry isn’t made overnight; ask Wade, Bosh, and LeBron what happened during their first year with the Miami Heat. Having a coach who can empathize with this is essential, and Chauncey has been through his fair share of teams in his playing career.
Another reason to keep Chauncey around is how young the team is. Other than Nurkic, Jerami Grant, and Dame, every other player on the 15-man roster has been in the league for five years or less. I believe the three veteran players will make a difference for the younger players, but having Billups there through this process in what seems like the fully built team should unlock their potential. Along this same line, Dame has his player approvals. Here are a couple of great quotes from his players last year:
Jerami Grant on fans wanting a coaching change: “I think they’re stupid,” adding on “I’m ready to run through a wall for him, no matter what,” and “I’m looking forward to playing for him.”
Anfernee Simons on Billups’ experience in the league and how it translates: “I think people, in general, gotta give him some grace because this is new territory for him,” Simons said. “He’s trying to figure it out, along with everybody else. We are trying to piece this together, from top to bottom: coaching staff, players, organization … everybody is trying to piece together what we think we can become. His only weakness, if you want to say he has a weakness, is his experience as a coach. Other than that, his relationship with players is great. I’ve said this before, but he understands everybody’s position — starter, bench, D guy — because, as a player, he was in all those. So he can relate to every single player.”
Damian Lillard on the situation Billups is in: “He’s obviously knowledgeable … it’s just a matter of what he is working with,” Lillard said. “We’ve been a really young team the last two years, and that’s tough for any coach, let alone a first-time coach.”
A simple coaching change won’t bring immediate success to an NBA or sports team. Chauncey Billups is entering his third year as the head coach for this young team. To establish a team’s culture and flow, you must have consistency throughout the organization. The team will never succeed if you keep hurting the players and coaching staff. Going into the season this year, it feels like the dust has settled, so let’s see what coach Chauncey can do this year for the Portland Trail Blazers.