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

coach.

”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

2011.

”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

point.

”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

are.”

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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