The Blazers have had their fair share of legendary (or at least damn good) coaches over the years: Dr. Jake Ramsay, Rick Adelman, and Mike Dunleavy either went to the promised land or got the Blazers within spitting distance. Nate McMillan was supposed to reach that level of acclaim. He didn’t.
Terry Stotts came in with lower expectations… and while he falls somewhere between “good coach” and Mo Cheeks, he’s the right person for the right team at the right time.
One of the best changes Kaleb Canales made after taking over for Nate McMillan was unifying the players in a way that “Sarge” never could. It didn’t mean they played better… but you could tell there was more investment and more buy-in, even when what was being invested and bought into wasn’t necessarily a superior system.
Terry Stotts is a coach in a similar vein who’d rather win his players over with respect than beat them over the head with “my way or the highway” roundball dogma. Stotts also didn’t have the chore of revamping a team whose antics (both on and off the court) had soured fans and needed a deep cleaning; a task which McMillan performed admirably. When the closet was finally clean, however, McMillan seemed unable to make anything other than Craig Sager suits with the remaining cloth. Stotts seems better able to match the colors into a respectable end product.
X’s and O’s
What we saw from the Blazers last year wasn’t particularly complex or cunning: more player movement will create more looks, shooting threes is good, being unselfish is better than playing hero ball, and adapting to what the defense gives you is valued.
Those first and last points in particular are pretty different from McMillan, whose offensive schemes were rigid and predictable, but whose goal was to force the other team to play at the Blazers’ pace. While McMillan can’t shoulder all of the blame, that rigidity hurt the Blazers during the playoffs when being able to think three or four moves ahead of your opponent is paramount.
What Stotts has replaced it with is a more adaptable, more modern, and (perhaps) less intimidating brand of offense that works best when your team has more than 3 or 4 people capable of making a play at any given time.
But is Stotts a great play creator? No. Does he need to be? Time will tell.
Let’s face it: many Blazers fans were done with McMillan at least a few months before he was canned. As described before, his rigidity and system-oriented approach to the game had gotten the Blazers to the first round and nothing more. That’s not entirely his fault. What the Blazers would have been able to do with a healthy Oden, Roy, and Aldridge with McMillan at their disposal is a tantalizing reminder that greatness is sometimes an injury or two from slipping through your fingers.
Regardless of how the Blazers got there, they had to play the hand they were dealt, and McMillan was no longer best suited to play it.
The Blazers find themselves on the upswing. A rookie-of-the-year who balled with some of the best in the world over the summer and more than held his own, an offseason full of position-improvement and the building of the bench from deplorable to good, and a coach who’s willing to let his young team learn, grow, make mistakes, and ultimately become better players than they would have under McMillan.
Stotts may not be around forever. He might just be the right person for this team at this time, just like McMillan a handful of years before him. Sometimes, that’s exactly what a team needs to get themselves on the right path, and for now, there’s no better leader than Stotts.