Summer is the equivalent of Dec. 31 for lots of teams in the NBA, particularly those with new regimes. A new GM or coach comes in with the best of intentions. He might even dip a toe into the land of resolutions. Typically, those come in the form of vows for how his team is going to play.
With pace. Entertaining style of basketball. Score in transition. Force the action. Trust the players.
Then November hits, the coach can’t stomach the sight of another wild pass flying out of bounds and he stomps on the brakes. Overnight, 80 becomes the new 100 for that team in an attempt to choke off such mistakes.
It has happened countless times, so the challenge for new Portland coach Terry Stotts is to resist such cautious temptations and stick with the blueprint he laid out at his introductory news conference Wednesday, as covered by Jason Quick of The Oregonian:
These Blazers, Stotts says, will favor the three-point shot. They will play at a fast pace. They will be given the freedom to create, as long as they show trust in teammates to pass. And over-dribbling will be frowned upon.
Of course, all this will be attempted with a young and largely unproven roster outside of cornerstones LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, so nobody on Wednesday was making any grand predictions about the playoffs or win totals.
Instead, the Midwestern son of teachers, and the longtime NBA assistant and head coach, predicted a season of instruction, and the successes will be judged not so much by wins and losses, but by the learning and the improvement.
“I think they are going to play an exciting brand of basketball,” Stotts said. “And the young players will improve. I think we will be better in April than in November. That will be the measuring stick. There’s not a player on this roster who is not going to try and make the playoffs this year … but my concern with this team, and especially the young players, is getting them better every day, and every month.”
Stotts, 54, has paid his dues as a longtime NBA assistant and twice has been flipped teams’ keys as head coach (Atlanta, 2002-04, and Milwaukee, 2005-07). The combined 115-168 record he posted in those stops helped him with the patience and teaching he’ll need and do, respectively, with the young Blazers.
Certainly Stotts — who will keep last season’s interim coach, Kaleb Canales (a candidate for the top job) on staff – has the chops to play potent. He was the “offensive coordinator” assistant for the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, while Dwane Casey (now in Toronto) served as his defensive counterpart under coach Rick Carlisle. Compared to the defense-and-grind style of predecessor Nate McMillan, the reins almost certainly will seem loosened.
Besides talking pace, smiling a lot and cutting a great, sideline-worthy figure at the news conference — Stotts, at 6-foot-8, is the tallest head coach in Blazers history — the new man made sure to mention Portland’s 1976-77 title team. That’s a prerequisite in such situations; you link up with a franchise’s history by name-checking some player or team that still resonates.
Stotts says Portland has seen it before. It happened in the 1976-77 season, when coach Jack Ramsay took over and implemented a fast-paced, free-flowing style predicated on passing, movement and teamwork. It’s why shortly after the Mavericks won the 2011 NBA title, Stotts reached out to the legendary Blazers coach.
“I love the way the Portland Trail Blazers won their championship,” Stotts said. “As a matter of fact, I texted Coach Ramsay because I felt the way we won was similar to that. That’s my ideal. It takes a lot of time and trust to do that, but it’s something that is contagious. Once you start playing that way, you don’t want to play any other way.”
Until you weary of the turnovers and the defeats, maybe.