4 best coaching candidates for Damian Lillard’s Blazers, ranked
It didn’t take long before the Portland Trail Blazers made their first big move of the offseason. Barely 24 hours after being eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the first-round of the playoffs, Portland decided to part ways with long-time head coach Terry Stotts. After four first-round exits in the past five years, it was clear that changes had to be made within the team, and as it turns out, Stotts was at the top of their list.
Damian Lillard has already made it clear that he will remain in Portland, despite the rumors linking him to a move away from the Blazers. As such, the team’s front office will need to make the necessary moves to ensure that Lillard does not only have the elements he needs to be competitive in the West but more importantly, that he remains happy. He may have built a relationship with Stotts through the years, but it would be surprising if Lillard had absolutely no say in the coaching change.
Now it’s time to move on. The search for a new head coach begins for the Blazers — or perhaps they’ve already started long before the Stotts firing. According to ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Blazers have narrowed down their choices to four final candidates:
Among candidates expected to be considered for the Blazers opening, sources tell ESPN: Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups, Jeff Van Gundy, Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni, and Michigan’s Juwan Howard.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 5, 2021
All four are prime candidates to take over the newly-vacated post in Portland, and today, we take a look at each of their credentials. Below is our ranked list of the four best coaching candidates to replace Terry Stotts as the Blazers’ new head coach.
4. Juwan Howard
There are few bigger names in college basketball over the past couple of years than Juwan Howard. The two-time NBA champion has done a stellar job as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Since signing with the program in 2019, Howard has been nothing short of amazing. Last season, Howard coached the Wolverines to a 14-3 record, en route to their first Big Ten title in the past seven years. Howard was deservedly recognized by several outlets, with the Associated Press College Basketball Coach of the Year being one of several honors he received. Michigan entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The only downside for Howard here is that he has zero NBA coaching experience. It would be a gamble for the Blazers to hire an inexperienced coach, especially considering what they’re trying to achieve right now. Then again, we’ve had several rookie coaches leading their respective teams to an NBA championship in recent years, with the last being Nick Nurse and his Toronto Raptors in 2019. If anyone has the chops to achieve a similar feat, Howard seems to fit the bill.
Finally, it is also worth noting that Howard played one season with the Blazers during his days in the NBA (2009-10). He already has a foundation within the organization.
3. Jeff Van Gundy
The next man up is Jeff Van Gundy. Unlike Howard, JVG has no shortage of experience coaching at the NBA level. Van Gundy served as the head coach of the New York Knicks for seven seasons, between 1995 and 2002. This was followed by a four-season spell with the Houston Rockets between 2003 and 2007. Despite not serving as a head coach over the past 14 years, Van Gundy has always remained close to the game. He’s been a long-time commentator for ESPN, and he’s always been able to provide tremendous input whenever he covers games.
Van Gundy’s name always seems to pop up whenever coaching opportunities open up. However, for one reason or another, he’s never gotten that final call. He’s probably been on the radar of several teams, but at this point, he remains to be an open candidate. As such, the Blazers might do themselves a favor by bringing Van Gundy to Portland. This man has had quite a lot to say about Damian Lillard, so he surely has more than a few ideas in mind in terms of his coaching approach towards the All-Star point guard.
2. Chauncey Billups
Another candidate that has been named as a possible Terry Stotts successor in Portland is Chauncey Billups. The 44-year-old had a tremendous NBA career, and is widely considered as one of the best point guards of his generation. You can never question how effective Billups was as a floor general during his time in the league, and this appears to have translated to his role as a coach.
As with the case of Howard, Billups does not have much experience in coaching. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until just this season that he was hired by the Los Angeles Clippers as an assistant coach under Tyronn Lue. However, it seems like Billups has flourished in his role with LA, being able to build strong working relationships with the players. This is definitely an asset that will work for him if and when he lands a head coaching position.
Billups has already been linked to the Boston Celtics as a potential replacement for Brad Stevens, who himself was recently promoted as the team’s president of basketball operations. Billups is in high demand right now, so the Blazers need to act fast if they’re serious about their interest in him.
1. Mike D’Antoni
On paper, at least, the most logical choice for the Blazers has got to be Mike D’Antoni. Right now, the 70-year-old is serving as an assistant to Steve Nash with the Brooklyn Nets. Considering his credentials, it actually came as a bit of a surprise that D’Antoni accepted an assistant role with the Nets prior to the start of this season. It is clear that his relationship with Nash had a lot to do with this.
This is perhaps exactly why D’Antoni would be a perfect fit for the Blazers. In particular, it would be interesting to see what he could do with Damian Lillard as his star player. We all know how D’Antoni loves his point guards. Steve Nash won back-to-back MVP titles with the Phoenix Suns under D’Antoni. With the Houston Rockets, D’Antoni coached a James Harden-led squad to several successful seasons. A D’Antoni-Lillard partnership might have a number of potential pain points, but it’s hard to imagine how Lillard would not flourish under a high-octane offense under Mike D’Antoni.
One final thing to note, which is perhaps what will emerge as the most important element in Portland’s decision-making process is the fact that Damian Lillard will reportedly have a significant say with regards to the team’s new head coach:
Source: Damian Lillard to have major input on the next head coach. Stotts was the only coach he’s played for in his nine seasons in the league. After the way the season ended, it was time for a change. https://t.co/opzDtX7LP3
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 5, 2021
This is not surprising at all considering how Lillard has been and will be (at least it looks like it right now) this team’s cornerstone superstar. Whoever the Blazers’ front office will select to succeed Stotts will need to establish a good working relationship with Lillard, so it is only logical that his opinion will weigh heavily in what is going to be a huge decision for the franchise.