Portland Trail Blazers: 4 candidates to replace Chauncey Billups

Chauncey Billups, Becky Hammon, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Chauncey Billups, Becky Hammon, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Portland Trail Blazers might need to consider replacing Chauncey Billups already

The Portland Trail Blazers have staggered to a disappointing 11-18 start under first-year head coach Chauncey Billups, who came into the season with one year of coaching experience.

That came as an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and clearly was not enough to prepare the rookie head coach for 2021-2022 and its challenges.

Billups is at his best when he pulls a player aside to give advice culled from his 17 seasons in the NBA playing for seven different teams. He has the ear of the team’s superstar, Damian Lillard, and a wealth of knowledge for emerging youngsters Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little.

But Billups waited far too long to shuffle an ineffective Robert Covington out of the starting lineup, and still favors the toothless big man in late-game situations over the more productive, energetic, and versatile Little.

The only way he seems to be able to handle Jusuf Nurkic — who was clearly disinterested until he realized he was probably going to have at least one new home arena between now and July, if not two or three — seems to be to abandon what this team does best offensively to force-feed the Bosnian Black Hole early in games.

Billups’s in-game substitution patterns have also baffled us at Rip City Project all season, like in Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns when Larry Nance Jr. sat most of the fourth quarter in favor of Nurkic, who finished the game at a net -9.

Or Wednesday, when he refused to go more than seven deep, leaning heavily on Lillard (47 and 38 minutes) and Norman Powell (39 and 40 minutes) on the second night of a back-to-back. Billups also seems to be uncannily adept at cooling off Simons and Little.

Then there’s the curious case of Dennis Smith Jr., clearly the Blazers’ best defensive guard. Injuries — and, I don’t know, maybe a magic 8-ball? — prompted Billups to use Smith for an average of 39 minutes over a three-game stretch against Boston, the Clippers, and Golden State.

Smith responded with 15.3 points on 53% shooting, six assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game. Billups responded in turn by granting him exactly four minutes of playing time over the next two games, including a DNP against the Suns and Chris Paul — who torched the rest of Portland’s backcourt for 24 points, 14 assists, and 8 rebounds.

In critical moments, the Blazers offense bogs down and reverts to the isolation plays that make us weep, and the defense is confused at best. For long stretches on Wednesday they looked as leaderless as a rec league pickup team and about as likely to make this year’s NBA playoffs.

Stories are popping up all over about how Billups is losing the team, and with Interim General Manager Joe Cronin looking to take the temporary title off his door plate, the Blazers will be active in looking for ways to improve.

And while we fully expect them to be involved heavily in what could be a historic trade market, the change of general managers and the current six-game losing streak aren’t good signs for Billups’s long-term future as Blazers coach.

Presuming a change is made either during the season or at its conclusion, let’s look at four possible candidates to replace him: