Terry Stotts an Optimistic Change in Coaching Philosophy
There were times last year when the Portland Trailblazers’ offense looked sluggish and stale in the hands of Nate McMillan. In recent weeks, there seems to be a collective sigh of optimistic-relief in Portland as Terry Stotts, a relatively unknown but creative offensive mind, takes the helm as head coach with a vastly different approach to the game in comparison to the former man in charge for the Blazers.
Around the NBA, training camp will open in less than two weeks and the realistic wonderment for the Trailblazers is what will Stotts do for LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum that McMillan couldn’t?
In reading and listening to what is said about Stotts, he will not only draw up plays that fit the strengths of the Blazers as a team, but decipher with precise timing when to discipline and when to relax on them as a group and most importantly, as individuals.
Words like ‘peacekeeper’ and phrases like ‘unflappable demeanor’ have been used by NBA executives and players when describing Stotts as a leader with some of the game’s biggest names vouching for him.
“Dirk (Nowitzki) said he’s an offensive genius,” said Aldridge in a recent interview. “He played a very big part of the offense changing the year Dallas won the championship,” he continued. “He was a key component of changing things to help free Dirk and move him around. Seeing how they used (Jason) Terry and Dirk in Dallas, they put people in a really tough position, made it tough to guard them. I’m looking forward to having him bring that type of scheme to our team.”
Stotts, 54, is familiar with the Pacific Northwest and this familiarity with the division isn’t just from his recent coaching days in the Western Conference. Stotts started his career in the NBA coaching ranks as an assistant with the Seattle Supersonics under then head coach George Karl. Winning from the beginning is accurate as his career started by reaching the playoffs eight times and the Finals once as an understudy to Karl who is one of the all-time great coaches in the NBA.
Now, in what seems to be a timely fashion almost 20 years later, Stotts has made his way back to a franchise in the Trailblazers that is very close to where it all started. For the Blazers and McMillan last year, it got to a point where it seemed as if his grasp on his own coaching philosophy was so firm that there was hardly room to breathe for the franchise or the players.
As Batum stood in the corner night after night waiting to shoot, it was baffling that McMillan didn’t simply put the ball in his hands and let Batum be more creative and effective as a slashing scorer. McMillan instead seemed content with being stern within the Blazers mediocrity and force-feeding Aldridge down low in a slow-paced half-court offense that literally went nowhere.
In high regards to McMillan, though, it isn’t work ethic and preparation that will make him and Stotts differ as the former coach was an undoubtedly prepared man. The biggest difference to be anticipated is the overall personal approach Stotts is infamously known for toward his players that even in the roughest times of the season, still gets the best out of them.
Along with a creative and structured offense that should be welcomed to players like Batum and JJ Hickson who has an uncanny awareness of his own somewhat unorthodox yet smooth presence on the court.
“There won’t be any doubt with Terry,” said Milwaukee Bucks lead assistant coach Jim Boylan who coached under Stotts for one season with the Atlanta Hawks. “He will give the players confidence and they will play hard for him. He knows when to push guys and knows when to ease off the pedal. Terry will be that guy. He will instill confidence in them to stay the course, stay together, and they will get better.”
Undoubtedly, Stotts will have a bumpy ride with a Blazers team that is filled with inexperience beginning with Damian Lillard, a rookie that will likely start at point guard. Stotts will only be magnified and analyzed more in his demeanor as he deals with the young roster and an ever developing guard along with the handful of international players rounding out the Blazers roster starting with rookies Joel Freeland and Victor Claver.
“Those experiences in failing are going to be good for him,” Karl said of Stotts head coaching stints in Atlanta and Milwaukee that saw him with one playoff appearance in 2006 and an overall record of 115-168.
“One thing you can’t simulate is experience, and his experiences will prepare him for this chance. Terry has a first-class mind and a passion for the game. He has all the talent to be a special coach. We all need opportunities to make mistakes and grow from our losing, and I think Terry has done a great job of staying focused and committed. I think Portland has made a really wise move.”