Entering Tuesday’s action, the Portland Trail Blazers are in sixth place in the Western Conference (32-24). That sixth position is important this year, as it’s the last playoff spot that will be locked in at the end of the regular season. The 7-10 seeds in each conference will have a play-in tournament to determine the final two seeds. In any case, there would seem to be no questions about the job security of head coach Terry Stotts. An eighth straight playoff campaign is looming.
The Trail Blazers have stayed afloat through a lot injuries this year, with some of those players (CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic) having returned to action. That is a testament to Stotts, and the clutch, MVP-worthy performance of Damian Lilliard. Portland is 22-8 in “clutch” games, defined as games whose scores are within five points at any point in the final five minutes (h/t to Hoops Rumors). But they are just 1-8 against the top-5 teams in the West right now, with a negative net rating as a team.
According to Jason Quick of The Athletic, the Trail Blazers will take a “long, hard look” at Stotts’ performance this offseason. There are concerns if he is the coach to take them over the top to a championship. He has one year left on his contract after this year, with a $7 million salary. So without an offseason extension, Stotts would go into next season as a lame-duck coach. That’s not ideal for anyone, and could bring a push for a change if the Trail Blazers don’t make a deep playoff run.
In nearly nine seasons as the Trail Blazers’ coach, Stotts has a 392-312 regular season record (.557 win percentage). But a 20-36 playoff record, with first round exits four times in the last seven seasons, does leave something to be desired.
But where should expectations realistically be in Portland? They lost to the Golden State Warriors three times (1-12 combined record) in the playoffs during that team’s peak run. That included once in the Western Conference Finals (2019). Now, the Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The West also remains the deeper and better conference in the NBA. Legitimately competing for a title is a nice thought. But the Trail Blazers aren’t in that discussion.
It’s easy for the Trail Blazers to want to replace Stotts, under the idea of underachievement. But they better have someone lined up to replace him if they make that move. And that coach better be easily seen as a clear upgrade.