The Blazers opened last year with few to no expectations of success. They had drafted Damian Lillard and were hoping for the best after a stellar summer league, the same for Meyers Leonard (whose summer league was less than stellar). They also ditched longtime coach and sad reminder of a bygone era Nate McMillan, and after letting Blazer faithful Kaleb Kanales run things for a bit, they settled on former Mavericks assistant Terry Stotts.
Keeping Batum (phew!) and Matthews, the Blazers otherwise had a very thin squad. Success would have been a bonus. To their credit, they stayed in the playoff hunt for the better part of the season before succumbing to a lack of talent.
The question I had was this: how successful does Terry Stotts need to be to keep his job?
It might be a little early for this question, sure. But shouldn’t we be used to it by now? I swear I heard the phrase “holiday shopping season” three days ago. It was SEPTEMBER. Can’t we wait for Thanksgiving anymore?
But I digress. Stotts has considerably more pressure on him to succeed this season than he did last, but what are we looking for out of him to ensure he sticks around?
Multi-year tenure: Playoffs this year, second round or better next.
It’s not a secret that the Blazers want to win, and they might have the weapons to do it right now. Will they? A lot of that has to do with luck (injuries), hard work (coaches and players), and the limits of player development. It also has to do with how all of those factors affect other teams in the West who are primed to make a push (Timberwolves come to mind) or try to stop from slipping (Denver). The X-factor: a 2014 draft that promises to be the deepest in a decade may entice some teams to pull the plug faster than others. The Blazers won’t be one of those teams, with their first-round pick (top-12 protected) to be shipped off to Charlotte.
Here today, gone tomorrow: Narrow playoff miss this year, first-round exit next.
This would not be good. With aforementioned pick out of the question with a playoffs near-miss, the Blazers would have no playoffs and no first-round pick. Yikes. Even if they made the playoffs the following year, Stotts would be on the hot seat and would be at risk of being flushed out. The saving grace would come when many of the Blazers’ current contracts expire, giving them ample cap room to sign a new core of players. However, this would mean yet another rebuild, something that neither fans nor the management types have much patience for.
Adios: Miss the playoffs badly this year.
With no short-term success, even with a mid-first round pick, and no hope of improvement, what would keep LaMarcus in Portland? What would entice anyone to play here? And why would Stotts keep his job? I don’t think Paul Allen has that kind of patience, and such an implosion might even put general manager Neil Olshey, heretofore well-liked so far as anyone can tell, under scrutiny himself. Even an improved Damian Lillard wouldn’t be enough to make me feel comfortable about the Blazers’ future… in fact, an improving rookie-of-the-year in a crappy environment might eye greener pastures with better endorsement opportunities and a better team around him to help him win.
To be fair, no coach should be judged on wins and losses alone. Much of that is on the players. But if you don’t win in this league, you don’t last, and sometimes those decisions are made much more quickly than people think they should (Mike Brown being booted out of L.A. 5 games into the season comes to mind). While Stotts is nowhere near under that level of scrutiny, nothing less than incremental but steady forward progress will ensure his stay in Portland lasts into 2014 and beyond.