Mr. Big Shot didn’t have to wait too long to get his shot at the big job.
Chauncey Billups was named as the Portland Trail Blazers’ new head coach, the team announced late last Sunday evening. Billups has reportedly signed a five-year pact with the team, with the final year offering a team option, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Billups will be stepping into a role that had been held by Terry Stotts for the past nine years, which just so happens to be the number of years that Portland franchise player Damian Lillard has been in the league. After winning rookie of the year in 2013, Lillard, along with Stotts and company, reached the Conference Semifinals in two of the next three years. However, playoff success would soon become much more scarce for this Blazers regime.
Portland has made the playoffs in eight straight seasons, but they’ve been ushered out of the tournament in the first round in five of the past seven campaigns. They did reach the Conference Finals in 2019, but they were only there to be swept by the banged up Golden State Warriors, who then lost in the Finals to the Toronto Raptors
Mr. Big Shot, as Billups came to be known throughout his illustrious NBA playing career thanks to his clutch shooting, is coming off of his first year on an NBA sideline in a coaching role as part of Tyronn Lue’s Los Angeles Clippers staff, though the lack of experience was unnoticeable considering how big an impact he had on the team.
The Clippers have given Billups a ton of credit for his work with All-Star Paul George, improving his confidence and playmaking abilities this season after the player really struggled on and off the floor during last year’s postseason in the bubble.
Billups and Lue led the Clippers to their first ever Conference Finals appearance this year, and came a couple of wins away from taking the Clips to their first ever Finals berth.
Unfortunately, they fell short to the Phoenix Suns, who will make their first Finals appearance in 28 years. They will take on either the Milwaukee Bucks or the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks and Hawks will duke it out in Game 6 in Atlanta on Saturday night with Milwaukee leading the series 3-2. If Trae Young doesn’t play, the underdog Bucks (who are without Giannis Antetokounmpo) are a great NBA pick offering solid NBA odds to finish the Hawks off and punch their Finals ticket.
One of the main issues the Blazers’ brass had with Billups was a 1997 incident during his rookie year in the NBA where he and another teammate were accused of rape, sources said. Though no criminal charges were brought at the time, Billups did settle a civil suit out of court shortly thereafter.
Much of the team’s research process was focused on this issue, and the lack of criminal charges paired with the 24 years since the incident occurred likely combined to help the team move past that ugly bit of Billups’ past.
Billups was reportedly very encouraging of the examination, per Woj’s sources, and his answers when asked about the incident were reportedly thoughtful and in-line with the findings of the independent investigation that the team conducted during their due diligence.
At his introductory presser with the Blazers, Billups was asked about a quote he had made about how that 1997 incident had shaped him in unbelievable ways, and though it seemed Billups was ready and willing to take that question and others like it head on, Portland’s PR head did not allow him to answer the question, thereby making the situation a little bit more questionable.
In the end, the team didn’t find enough skeletons to disqualify Billups from becoming their next top dog, not to mention Olshey’s prior relationship with Billups when the two were both part of the Clippers back in 2011-2012.
Olshey has said that he believes that the former All-Star point guard is one of the best leaders he has ever encountered in his years around the association, and the fact that the franchise player—Lillard, also a point guard—also gave a glowing endorsement of Billups played a big part in his hiring in the end, sources said.
The Denver, Colorado native has his work cut out for him, with the stench of an extended period of mediocrity still emanating from the team and several key players unsure about their future with the club. Two things are certain: No. 1, Billups will have to find a way to reshape and refocus this roster so that it no longer serves as a doormat on the defensive end.
The second important thing the Colorado alumnus will have to do is build a strong relationship with Lillard and No. 2 scorer CJ McCollum that’s centered on trust. Lillard was clearly a bit disillusioned with the way the team went out in the first round again, so making sure that everyone, but especially Dame, buys into what the new head coach wants to do will be crucial.
Billups first entered the NBA through the 1997 draft when he was selected third overall by the Boston Celtics. He didn’t get along with head coach Rick Pitino, and the rookie was dealt to the Toronto Raptors in February of his freshman season in the NBA. The Raptors in turn flipped Billups to his hometown Denver Nuggets the next January, who then traded Billups to the Orlando Magic the following February.
He never played a game for the Magic due to injury, and the next offseason, he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he would stay for two years, experiencing his breakout campaign in his second season with the franchise. After the Wolves balked at offering him a proper free agent deal in 2002, Billups signed with the Detroit Pistons.
Billups would remain in the Motor City for 6+ seasons, his longest stint with any team during his 17 year NBA career. He would help lead the Pistons to the NBA championship in 2004, also taking home well-earned Finals MVP honors. After that he was named to five straight All-Star teams from 2006-2010 as well as three All-NBA teams and two NBA All-Defensive teams.
Before the 2008 season, Billups was sent back to the Nuggets in a deal that sent Allen Iverson the other way. Billups stayed in Denver until 2011, when he was once again dealt, this time to the New York Knicks. He then spent two injury-plagued years with the Clippers during which he played just 42 total games before returning to Detroit in 2013, where he retired the next year.
Other candidates for the Blazers coaching job that were considered by Olshey included Brooklyn Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni and San Antonio Spurs assistant Beck Hammon, who both met with the Blazers’ president in Seattle as well, sources say.