Whoever becomes the next Trail Blazer coach is stepping into a pressure cooker: The best player in franchise history — Damian Lillard — appears to be evaluating his loyalty to the organization, the GM just threw the last coach under the bus for the team’s poor defense (despite a roster not built to defend well), and the expectations of ownership and the fan base are high. Maybe unrealistically high.
With that, one might think the Blazers would look to a veteran coach for their next hire, but the list of top candidates reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic is heavy on quality assistants looking for their first shot in the big chair.
With the Portland Trail Blazers’ coaching search underway, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Chauncey Billups, Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Mike D’Antoni and Spurs vice president of basketball operations Brent Barry are among the initial candidates for the job, sources tell The Athletic.
Billups has been considered the frontrunner by league sources since the minute the Blazers decided to move on from Terry Stotts (Jason Kidd was in there, too, until he took himself out of the running). D’Antoni reportedly wants the job. Hammon is one of the assistant coaches around the league who will (and should) come up in just about every job search, and she reportedly is also in consideration for the Magic job. Staley is a coach a number of NBA front offices have been impressed with, and Barry is well respected around the league and come up in previous coaching searches.
Both Billups (Clippers) and D’Antoni (Nets) are still working their day jobs as NBA assistant coaches.
Who should get the Portland job? Whoever Lillard wants. While Lillard is reportedly not making demands about who should be the coach (at least anymore), this is a star-driven league and priority No. 1 for the new coach is making Lillard happy and keeping him in Portland. At the very least, Lillard will have the Roman Emporer thumbs up/down on the hire.
How that coach handles the pressure with the Blazers is another question entirely.