Eight straight trips to the postseason weren’t enough for the Portland Trail Blazers to remain complacent. Soon after parting ways with Terry Stotts, the team hired Chauncey Billups in the hopes the first-time head coach would guide Portland to the next level. Yet 27 games in, Mr. Big Shot has been Mr. Big Flop.
In a season headlined by incessant trade rumors surrounding Damian Lillard and a change in front-office leadership, the on-the-court product has been less than exemplary. Much of the blame can be shouldered on Billups, who is already drawing the ire of several of his players.
The Portland Trail Blazers have struggled in 2021-22
With Billups at the helm, the Trail Blazers have failed to make any meaningful progress in the Western Conference standings. The team’s best stretch came during a four-game winning streak in November, bringing its record to 10-8. Since then, Portland has dropped eight of the last nine, including a current five-game losing streak that dropped its record to a disappointing 11-16.
As their 145-117 loss to the Boston Celtics this month shows, the Trail Blazers have fallen flat on the defensive end. Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns, Portland’s defensive rating is 29th, one spot worse than the 5-23 Orlando Magic.
Problems exist on the offensive end, as well. During the five-game skid, the Blazers have scored 94, 90, and 83 points. As a result, their offensive rating over their last 10 contests is 26th across the league. A big reason why, however, stems from Lillard’s five-game absence due to an abdominal injury and CJ McCollum’s collapsed lung forcing him out indefinitely.
Between injuries and front office drama, things haven’t been easy in Rip City. But Billups has done little if anything to help right the ship.
The Trail Blazers are getting frustrated with Chauncey Billups
More often than not, there is an adjustment period whenever a new head coach steps in. That’s certainly the case for Billups, a 45-year-old with one year of assistant coaching experience. The longtime Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets guard took over for Stotts, a seasoned veteran who manned the post for nine seasons. Yet it appears the grace period has ended.
According to Bleacher Report, many league sources have cited a number of Blazers players frustrated with Billups’ coaching demeanor and the team’s offensive system. The potential Hall of Famer Billups hasn’t been shy about his criticisms with the players either, publicly calling them out in postgame press conferences as needed.
“I just feel like every game as we’re trying to get better, I owe it to these dudes to coach them. So I don’t see it that way like I’m calling them out,” Billups told Yahoo Sports. “Sometimes dudes don’t love that, but I think if you really want to win and you really want to do it right and be a good teammate, you can respect my approach.”
It’s one thing to criticize the players behind closed doors. But very few coaches boast such public displays of accountability, especially without any sort of experience to fall back on.
Portland has to make a tough decision regarding Billups
By most accounts, Lillard has remained committed to the Trail Blazers. But how long will the 31-year-old truly be content playing for a team just struggling to make the playoffs?
With constant worry about their best player wanting out, the Blazers simply don’t have time to entertain a losing season. Especially since the team has largely been competitive after Lillard entered the league. So what reasonable argument is there for Billups to earn the trust of the front office should Portland continue to lose?
Billups’ hire was always considered a risk given his lack of experience, but the team hoped his championship playing experience was enough to put things over the top. Instead, it’s hard to make a case for him being the right hire given the early returns and reported disapproval within the locker room.
If interim general manager Joe Cronin wants to salvage the season, a change at coach might be the first place to start.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.