The Portland Trail Blazers are heading towards another lottery appearance, but head coach Chauncey Billups’ job is safe, according to The Athletic. In fact, firing Billups “hasn’t even crossed our minds,” said a high-ranking member of the front office.
Billups was hired as the Blazers’ coach prior to the 2021-22 season, replacing Terry Stotts, who was fired after nine seasons and eight playoff appearances. So far, however, Billups’ tenure has not gone to plan. The team’s 27 wins last season were their fewest since 2006, and due to a current five-game losing streak they’re 31-39 this campaign.
Injuries have, of course, been a big part of the problem; Damian Lillard was limited to 29 games last season after undergoing abdominal surgery, and has already missed 14 games this year. There has also been plenty of upheaval, both on and off the floor. Notably, both team president Chris McGowan and GM Neil Olshey have left since Billups was hired, and key veterans such as CJ McCollum, Larry Nance and Josh Hart have been traded away.
Even so, the past two seasons have been disappointing in Portland. Billups was hired, in part, to fix the defense, which has been as bad as ever this season; they allow 117.2 points per 100 possessions, which is the fourth-worst defensive rating in the league. With just 58 wins to his name since he took the job, it was fair to at least wonder about a possible change on the sidelines.
It’s clear, however, that the Blazers have not gotten to that point. Billups, for one, is not concerned.
“I don’t worry about that, at all,” Billups said. “We have our talks and everything, and that will remain between us, but I don’t worry about that at all.”
Perhaps most important, the players like Billups and want him to stay. Per The Athletic, Lillard, Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons, the three most important players on the team, have all endorsed Billups. That holds a lot of weight.
“I’m ready to run through a wall for him, no matter what,” Grant said. “I’m looking forward to playing for him.”
With 12 games remaining, the Blazers are 2.5 games out of the play-in tournament and have a difficult remaining schedule. At this point it would probably be best for them to pack it in and make sure they hold on to the sixth-best lottery odds. To that point, Chris Haynes, who is plugged in with Lillard, speculated on his podcast that the team could shut down the All-Star guard in the coming days if they continue on this path.
Given all that has happened outside of his control over the past two seasons, it seems fair to give Billups another chance, especially when he has the players’ support. That can only keep you safe for so long, however, and at a certain point he’ll have to show some improvement. It’s worth noting the Blazers haven’t missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons since the mid-2000s, when they did so from 2004-08. And should Portland fail the reach the playoffs this season, next year would be that third year.