Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard tested a popular philosophy, and, man, did it go sideways in a hurry. Lillard and the Trail Blazers were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs in six games despite his Herculean effort. After the team parted ways with coach Terry Stotts, Lillard made his preference for a new coach crystal clear. But instead of speaking it into existence, Lillard prompted Jason Kidd to take his name out of consideration.
You can forgive Lillard for his impatience. He just finished his ninth NBA season and will be 31 this summer. He is the embodiment of the small-market superstar. Lillard has remained loyal to Portland despite only getting as far as the conference finals once. Leaving Portland becomes problematic this summer, what with his four-year, $196 million extension due to kick in next season. That’s an issue because projections have only a handful of teams with workable cap space.
Why did Damian Lillard want Jason Kidd?
Damian Lillard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports who he wants to replace Stotts, in no uncertain terms.
“Jason Kidd is the guy I want.”Damian Lillard
Lillard has never played with or for Kidd, so what’s the connection? Lillard is another in an impressive line of superstar point guards from Oakland, California. Gary Payton was the first in that line, Kidd came next, and Lillard is the next generation.
Payton and Kidd are Hall of Famers. Lillard is well on his way there with five All-NBA nods already to his credit. (Dame also has the mini-MVP trophy from the seeding games at last year’s bubble in Orlando.)
Stotts is, to this point, the only coach Lillard has played for in his NBA career. They arrived in Portland the same season, 2012–13, with Stotts coming to the Trail Blazers off a four-year stint and a championship ring as an assistant for the Dallas Mavericks. Lillard was a mid-major star taken sixth overall in the NBA draft out of Weber State. Together, they took the Blazers to the playoffs each of the last eight seasons.
If Damian Lillard wants input into the franchise’s first coaching search during his career, he seems to have earned it.
Why Kidd said no to Lillard
Jason Kidd was intrigued by the Portland opening and to coaching Damian Lillard. But after Lillard went so public with his desire that Kidd is the guy to replace Stotts, it left the current Los Angeles Lakers assistant in an awkward position, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“Portland’s a first-class organization and will have great candidates for its head coaching job, but I’ve decided not to be one of them.”Jason Kidd
Immediately after retiring in 2013, Kidd coached the Brooklyn Nets for one season. He ended up with the Milwaukee Bucks after reportedly attempting to force out former Nets GM Billy King in a palace coup. He was fired by the Bucks in January 2018 after 3½ seasons and joined Frank Vogel’s staff with the Lakers in 2019. Portland may be dodging a bullet because Kidd’s tactical abilities have never gotten rave reviews.
Did Portland fire the right guy?
The coaching opening in Portland resulted from a mutual agreement to part ways between the club and Stotts. How that scenario plays out in the real world? Probably something like:
“You can’t quit; we’re firing you.”
“You can’t fire me. I quit.”
Mutual doesn’t necessarily have to be agreeable, after all.
But how much blame does Neil Olshey carry in all of this? He also came to Portland in 2012, was responsible for hiring Stotts, and made Damian Lillard the first draft pick of his tenure. But Olshey hasn’t exactly surrounded Lillard with a superteam. Yes, CJ McCollum was a solid first-round pick. But there have been many other moves (the Arron Afflalo rental, two first-round choices for Zach Collins) that have been dubious, at best.
The current roster has Lillard, McCollum, and a whole lot of that guys. Norman Powell was solid after coming over from the Toronto Raptors. But the next guy Enes Kanter defends well will be his first. While Anfernee Simons is talented, he’s still very raw. They have the old Carmelo Anthony rather than the Carmelo Anthony of old. There’s not a lot there. But as is often the case, a GM puts together a mediocre team and then fires the coach who couldn’t win a ring with it.
Damian Lillard needs help, and whether a new system counts as such remains to be seen.