Stotts Era Begins
The summer of change and adjustment continues for the Trail Blazers, following one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory. Each of the phases in this important offseason have been vital to Portland's future, and Wednesday the team essentially put a bow on what it hopes will be a successful new direction.
Terry Stotts was introduced as the new head coach of the Trail Blazers, and attempted to answer a lot of questions about who he is, what his philosophy is, and why he's respected so much by those around the league. From players who have experienced him as a coach, to former coaches he's worked under, to others he has worked for and known, the reviews were staggeringly positive.
Stotts was not only flattered by those endorsements, but even seemed surprised that this background check engineered by Blazers general manager Neil Olshey went as deep as it did.
Olshey has realized, since taking the job, that he's going to have to answer for each and every one of these decisions, especially in a summer like this, and has been meticulous in his research.
To say that this was simply a "best of the rest" candidate, or a hiring that served as a favor to a shared agent, seems very unrealistic. There is simply too much on the line, for everyone involved, for that to be the case. These are career decisions that have lasting impacts and will live on everyone's resume. To take any process like this lightly, or to think politics guided the decisions, just doesn't make sense.
"Neil did numerous background checks, and the things people were saying about me were very flattering and very humbling," said Stotts during an interview I did with him at the end of the day on Wednesday. "I wouldn't be here without all of those people saying those things about me."
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who leaned on Stotts so heavily in Dallas, was particularly gushing in his endorsement. Not only did Carlisle give credit to Stotts for engineering the Maverick offense, but went as far as to say he's never had an assistant who will be tougher to replace than Stotts. Stotts has been given the credit for being Dallas' offensive coordinator, and someone who helped guide a group of players, that wasn't the most talented in the playoffs, to an NBA title two years ago.
Stotts is extremely appreciative of Carlisle's support and praise, but is quick to deflect at least some of that, and has a healthy perspective about how success is ultimately gained in this business.
"It was my responsibility in Dallas to oversee the offense. But, it's a player's game, let's face it," Stotts told me. "Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, are going to make your offense a lot better. You want to play a style they
want to play."
Clearly, Nowitzki flourished under Carlisle and Stotts' offensive system, and it was all about putting Dirk in a position to be successful, Stotts says. Now, he's challenged to do the same with another elite Western Conference power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge.
In the time leading up to his first interview with the Blazers, Stotts did his research on Portland's roster and past game plans. He compared it to cramming for a test, and that will only continue now. Stotts realizes he'll be handing the keys to the offense to a rookie point guard in Damian Lillard, but is very impressed with what he's seen so far.
"He (Lillard) was very impressive in Las Vegas," said Stotts. "He was clearly the best player in the summer league. He has as knack for being able to shoot, drive, pass, and push the ball. The rigors of an NBA season will be a challenge for him, and he's going to have his ups and downs as a rookie."
This much is certain, even as the offseason continues for the NBA, the grind for Stotts is just beginning. He's got to assemble a coaching staff, get moved to Portland, tie up all the loose ends in Dallas, and start preparing for training camp. Even as our interview ended, he was talking with officials about possible dates for camp to begin, and was talking about the Blazers' state-of-the-art practice facility, and how much he's looking forward to getting the players back.
One thing we do know, regarding his staff, is that Kaleb Canales will be a major part of it. Stotts said after his interview with Paul Allen, in London, he and Canales were on the same flight back to the United States. He told Canales at that time, if he was fortunate enough to get the job, he wanted Kaleb on his staff. It will be a bit of a unique situation that the two finalists for a job end up working together on the same staff, but Stotts says it's a no brainer.
"I've known Kaleb for a long time. I've seen how he works on the court, and have seen his relationship with the players. I know how important relationships with the players are in this league. The support he had from the current players I view as a very positive thing. When you can surround yourself with good people, good coaches, you need to do that. Kaleb is that."
It also appears Stotts is that. The goal in any job search is to shut out the noise and the pressure and simply find the right guy, at the right time, who will put your organization in the best place to succeed. Time will be the ultimate test, as it always is, but Wednesday was a revealing and educational end to a long search that will help decide Portland's course.
Let the Stotts era begin.