Twice-fired Terry Stotts finds success in Portland
It was the summer of 2007, and Terry Stotts had just been fired
for the second time in four years.
The George Karl disciple wasn’t sure where his coaching career
was headed, so he took a pilgrimage to Europe to visit with some of
the top international coaches in the game. He wanted to see things
from a fresh perspective and, in the back of his mind, he wondered
if he might need to make the move overseas to continue being a head
”I’ve always been open to the idea of coaching in Europe,”
Stotts recently told The Associated Press. ”I enjoy the lifestyle
of living in a foreign country. That was always in the back of my
mind that might be a possibility.”
Six years later, Stotts has finally found a roster, and a front
office, in Portland that has blended perfectly with his wide-open
offensive philosophy. He’s making the most of what may have been
his last chance to be an NBA head coach.
In his second season, the Trail Blazers have become one of the
biggest surprises in the league. They are off to a 23-5 start, tied
for the third-best start in franchise history.
They lead the league in 3-point shooting and are third in
attempts, and Stotts offers no apologies for the approach. He’s
meshed that around a devastating pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop team of
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge to make the Blazers offense
one of the most entertaining to watch in the league. They’ve topped
105 points 13 games in a row, the longest streak since Denver did
it in 2008.
”We’re playing the style of basketball that I envisioned as far
as moving, being unselfish, versatility, shooting 3s,” Stotts
said. ”That’s what we envisioned.”
General manager Neil Olshey has filled the cupboard with goodies
for Stotts, and the coach enjoys a supportive owner in Paul Allen.
Those two entities weren’t necessarily there in his first two head
coaching jobs in Atlanta and Milwaukee.
Stotts was fired after two seasons both times.
”I thought Terry Stotts, both in Atlanta and in Milwaukee, did
a great job,” ESPN analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
”He just didn’t have winning NBA talent. Oftentimes, when you get
your first jobs in this league, you don’t have talented-enough
teams that can consistently win.”
Stotts was fired by the Bucks with 18 games to play in 2007, and
that’s when he spent three weeks visiting with Ettore Messina and
CSKA Moscow, Zeljko Obradovic with Panathinaikos in Greece and
David Blatt in Istanbul.
Stotts played in Europe and has always been intrigued by the
international style of play. When Rick Carlisle brought Stotts on
as an assistant with Dallas in 2008, he brought some of those ideas
to the table and helped the Mavericks win the championship in
”He has a great overall feel for the game,” Carlisle said.
”He’s the best offensive coach I’ve ever been around.”
Stotts credits his time in Dallas for helping crystalize his
approach to being a coach.
”We played a style in Dallas that I really liked,” Stotts
said. ”That really had as much of an impact on the coach that I am
right now as compared to who I was in Milwaukee and Atlanta.”
When Olshey hired Stotts before last season, several Portland
players and many league observers were surprised by the move. Some
pushed for interim head coach Kaleb Canales to get the job, but
Stotts quickly won them over with a measured approach and
player-friendly offensive system.
”You’re at your best when you’re not worried about what
someone’s saying about your offensive game,” guard Wesley Matthews
said. ”There are structures and guidelines, but he trusts us
enough to make the right plays out there.”
Lillard’s presence in crunch time has brought a new swagger to
the group. The additions of Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright and Thomas
Robinson have added depth and Aldridge is enjoying the best season
of what has been a standout, if overlooked, career to this
”He’s been instrumental,” Aldridge said of Stotts. ”He came
in and he changed the whole system. He’s instilled confidence in
every player. He has us buying into playing defense this year and
playing unselfish, and a lot of teams don’t play as unselfish as we
And now, after two false starts to begin his head coaching
career, Stotts has the feeling that he’s finally found a home.
”It’s definitely been special,” Stotts said. ”You just feel
like there’s no question it’s going in the right direction.”
Carlisle is one of the few who doesn’t seem surprised that it
happened this quickly.
”Back in August of `12, there weren’t a lot of people clamoring
to get the Portland Trail Blazers job,” Carlisle said. ”In this
league, you’re not just going to inherit a great job. You’ve got to
take a tough situation and make it a good situation and that’s
exactly what he’s done.”
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