In a recent interview with The Athletic’s beat writer Jason Quick, Lillard questioned whether this team was a championship team. The reputable Quick outlined that Dame, at the start of every season, always talked about winning championships. NB – the article is behind a paywall. Dame had this to say about the defensive effort this year.
"If we are the defensive team that we’ve been so far this season, then we don’t have a chance to win the championship. Right now, we aren’t a championship team, because you don’t have a chance being one of the bottom teams defensively, and that’s just the reality of the situation. And I’m aware of that."
Now, if Dame is concerned, everyone should be concerned. Not only is Dame the greatest player in Trail Blazers history, but he is one of the best five players in the league. He has trusted Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts to put the players and systems around him. He has put faith in the front office, even if they haven’t always made the right moves. Now it’s time for the front office and coaching team to step up.
I believe that this team has the right pieces in place to compete for a Conference finals berth, but the defensive systems, and even the rotations at times, are a mess. When the Blazers have been healthy, this team was still awful on defense. There are alternatives on the roster, but they aren’t exactly ideal.
At the moment, they rank 29th, but just had 121 points hung on them by the Washington Wizards in a win. This team may now be the worst defensive team in the league. And if Dame is unhappy about how things are going, then this is a major worry.
Dame’s loyalty with failing systems could become a problem. What if he changes his mind about being in Portland for life? What if he gets sick of the incompetent defensive systems?
Coach Terry Stotts has never been a good defensive coach. He has had just two top-ten finishes in all the years he has assisted or coached in the NBA. Yes, there have been injuries, but other teams have also dealt with these injuries. I don’t know if Stotts needs to be fired, but clearly, something needs to be done.
If Stotts is unable to coach to an acceptable level, then he does need to go. But management needs to decide if that is where they think the issue lies. The personnel has been upgraded on that end, with Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr added, but injuries are now a problem. When this team is healthy within a month, I think there will be a time to assess them properly.
In the meantime, there should be some soul searching being done within the Blazers camp. Dame is the most important Blazer to grace this team in 30 years; he has to be kept happy.