Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts joined Brian Wheeler and Antonio Harvey on the June 16 edition of Trail Blazers Courtside to discuss his thoughts on the Spurs beating the Heat in the NBA Finals, how he’s spending the offseason, which players are back working out in Portland, watching the World Cup and the similarities between basketball and soccer, preparing for the upcoming draft despite the Trail Blazers not having a pick and Gary Payton’s comments about Damian Lillard’s defense.
Brian Wheeler: We’ll talk a lot about it over the next half hour or so, but the NBA season is over now because the Spurs just made mincemeat out of the Heat in the last three games.
Antonio Harvey: I don’t know what to say, coach. What they did to Miami was completely unexpected. I expected the Spurs to win, but not like that.
Terry Stotts: I think it was unexpected. But San Antonio clearly showed they were the best team in the league. They did it all through the regular season, they did it throughout the playoffs. The way they did it, I thought it was good for basketball.
Brian Wheeler: Everybody, of course, wanted to know from a Blazer perspective, does it make everybody in the Blazer family feel a little better about not only the Spurs winning but how they won based on how things went in the series with the Blazers. I’ll ask you coach: do you feel better knowing other coaches had to worry about big halftime deficits too against the Spurs?
Terry Stotts: Yeah, you take some consolation in that. We struggled in the series, obviously. Bottom line: we lost 4-1. Miami lost 4-1. The Spurs were on a roll and they played great team basketball, they had multiple guys step up. From our perspective, it does give us some consolation that Oklahoma City and Miami had a difficult time as well.
Brian Wheeler: A big day today for soccer, USA 2-1 over Ghana. Great start to the World Cup.
Terry Stotts: Score early, score late!
Brian Wheeler: Are you a soccer guy at all?
Terry Stotts: Like most the country, I am at this time. I enjoy watching World Cup. To be honest, I like just the patriotism, how every country is so involved. It’s such a phenomenon that the whole world is wrapped up into it. It’s great.
Brian Wheeler: Tone, you have soccer talent in your family.
Antonio Harvey: Well, my little girl plays and that’s the only reason I learned anything about the sport. But the more I learned, the more I realized that it’s very similar (to basketball). The movements, the flow of the game, very similar to basketball when it’s played right.
When I first went to Europe, Coach, it was the funniest thing in the world. I get to Europe and the coaches were practicing a fastbreak and he’s pushing the ball up the sideline. He’s doing it over and over again and finally “Coach, wait, wait, wait, the ball goes up them middle. You never take it up the sideline.” And he’s “No, no, no, no.” We go back and forth for a few minutes and ultimately I did it his way.
Terry Stotts: You were bringing the ball up?
Antonio Harvey: No. I know my limitations. I promise you that. But it was interesting because when you watch the soccer game, the ball always comes up the middle (ed. note: I’m pretty sure Antonio meant to say sideline and not middle). And then I watched Steve Nash when I got back to the NBA and he always took it up the sidelines, and I started to realize, when you take the ball up the sideline, it forces the defense to flatten out and opens up shots along the perimeter, which is what you want in soccer.
Terry Stotts: The other thing they do is they utilize the corners. Basketball in the NBA is really starting to realize, you see a lot of teams dibble down to the corner, pass it up. San Antonio is a great example of that, where they’ll bring it down and the guy catching, if he doesn’t have something he’ll dribble it down to the corner, swing it and play that way.
Brian Wheeler: The Spurs winning the world championship last night and doing so in decisive fashion, taking out the Heat in five games. From a coaching perspective, I would guess they were a very fun team to watch. Sharing the basketball, lot of guys got involved, there wasn’t necessarily one guy that was dependent for them to win on a given night and really just seemingly doing things — we always say the right way about teams going about their way of winning — but it seems like they did it that way.
Terry Stotts: I thought it was a really good win for basketball. When you read the comments about it was team basketball, they shared the ball at the offensive end, they played together defensively, they set all kinds of offensive records without guys having big scoring averages. First time in the shot clock era that someone won a championship without averaging 17 or 18 points or something like that. It was amazing team basketball, it was very fun to watch and, like I said, I think it was good for basketball fans to see that and kids watching it and seeing how the game can be played.
Antonio Harvey: Somebody asked me last night if that can be emulated or duplicated. I don’t think it can be duplicated but I certainly feel like, especially with this Blazers team, you guys try to emulate a lot of that this year and I’ve heard you talk about the next step is on the defensive side of the ball. How good does it make you feel to see success, a team that basically does what you guys do, maybe a little bit better, but have the kind of success they had.
Terry Stotts: What they had, they brought everything. This has been years in the making. Last year’s defeat obviously played a part of it. When you have some aging Hall of Fame players who are willing to give in and you bring in guys off the bench who are at the stage of their careers, like Pop said, have gotten over themselves and it’s about winning. It was very unique and very special situation as far as the team dynamics that allowed them to play that way. But I do believe that it showed the basketball world how the game can be played. If winning is the priority, winning as a team is the best way to do it.
Brian Wheeler: One of your old head coaches, George Karl, said once that “I’ll continue as a head coach in this league as long as they’ll let me” talking about the players, as if to indicate that because the feeling is that it’s a player’s league that coaches don’t necessarily have power, don’t necessarily have authority. I don’t get the impression watching San Antonio that Gregg Popovich doesn’t have power and authority there and maybe the players have to buy into what he’s saying. But when they talk about a system that works, clearly there’s an understanding among the key players there that they could be yelled at and they accept that and it seems like that’s the way it should be. The coach is in charge and there is no feeling that the players really have the ultimate authority there.
Terry Stotts: I think, in some way, it’s a little bit overstated. I mean, every coach is going to coach in his own way. I think Pop, you could say he yells at them, but he treats them as men. Young players learn what’s important to play in the system and the old guys teach the young guys coming in. Certainly Coach Pop has a lot of say of what goes on and he has the ultimate respect of all the players. Look, our guys like to be coached. It’s just, you have to treat them like men, you have to obviously respect them and it’s how you go about correcting things and having them respect the way you go about it.
Antonio Harvey: When you talk about treating them as men, one of the things I was talking to Ime Udoka — who is a former Trail Blazer and a good friend of this show, good friend of ours — and he was telling me that Pop, it’s not just basketball, it’s life. They talk about everything across the board and I think that creates more of that family environment that you’re welcome here, we want you here, we want you to feel like you’re a part of this. How difficult is it to find that line as a coach between bringing you in but also letting you know that I’m still in charge?
Terry Stotts: Again, it’s such a unique situation and he’s been there for 18 years. It doesn’t happen overnight. When you come in and you have a foundation with David Robinson and then bring in a guy like Tim Duncan and you’re able to set the foundation. Those types of characters of people, you bring them in and you’re able to cultivate it. And again, it gets to this point where it doesn’t just happen. Everybody sees the end result but this was years in the making.
Brian Wheeler: There’s great continuity, obviously. They tweak the roster every season but the core players are still the same. Obviously as this Blazers roster has started to develop. How much easier was it for you in your second season to have the guys that were coming back that already understood what was expected of them and for any of them to have the same coach from year to year so that there’s no break in period, there’s no questioning as to what is expected?
Terry Stotts: You know, it was really important for us because, I went to San Antonio’s training camp in 2007, the year after they won the championship, and they had everybody coming back. In their training camp, Pop didn’t even say a word the first practice. It just clicked. Things were going, they were making reads, they picked up where they left off. Obviously we didn’t come back like that, but the familiarity, first of all, with me and my coaching staff, because I hadn’t worked with any of our coaches. Kaleb (Canales) was the only guys coming back to the team that the players were used to. So you come back the next year, the coaches know what we want to do, we know what we want to tinker with, how we’re going to make improvements. We were so much further ahead with the offense coming into it because we started with the basics that we had used the year before and then built on that. That continuity makes it easier for the players and coaches to kick start at the beginning of training camp.
Antonio Harvey: There are reports that a number of players are already at the practice facility working out. Can you confirm it first, and second, are you seeing things that make you feel good about the future of the franchise seeing as how the Blazers don’t have a draft pick?
Terry Stotts: First of all, the are there. Last year we did the same thing. A lot of the young guys came in in June and it really helped with their development going forward, it helped with summer league. CJ, Allen, Will, Meyers, Joel, T.Rob, they’re all there and then we bring in some other guys so we have enough guys so we have enough guys to play five-on-five full court. We incorporate individual work, some two-on-two, three-on-three, fundamentals, offense, defense. We did it last week, this week and next week and then they’ll take a break and then we hit summer league. I think it’s invaluable, different parts of it. But just to get out there and play and keep feeling like you’re making the improvement. We need some of these guys, if not all of them, we need somebody to come in and make a difference next year and hopefully it’s one of these guys.
Brian Wheeler: Maybe you can clarify Coach: what are you allowed to do with the guys at this time of the year when they come back and it’s the offseason though?
Terry Stotts: We’re allowed to do anything up to three-on-three. We can coach and do anything that’s three-on-three. Once it gets to four-on-four, five-on-five, they can play but that’s when we have to step off and juts let them go. What we try to do in these workouts is do a lot of individual work, one-on-one, two-on-two, talk about schemes defensively and do that within the concept of three-on-three. Tone, you know what we’re talking about. And then trying to incorporate that so when they do play four-on-four, it kind of gives them a foundation.
Antonio Harvey: How is my guy Meyers doing Coach? People were down on him, especially last season, but I try to remind people he’s only got four years of basketball in his blood and two of those were against high school kids who were 5-11, so he never really had to develop. I see a bright future for the young man.
Terry Stotts: I do, too. What’s disappointing for me is we win 54 wins and, by all accounts, it’s a terrific season and if you want to focus on Meyers not getting a chance to play, it seems like it’s taking a myopic look on this past season. Meyers, Joel Freeland beat him out. It was much more about what Joel did than what Meyers didn’t do. Meyers has come in, he’s working very hard, he’s a talented big man. It’s a catch-22 because he’s in a situation where, like you said, he hasn’t had an opportunity to play at this level against high competition an he didn’t get that opportunity since we were in a winning mode last season that he wasn’t given the opportunity to develop and play through mistakes that a lot of young big guys get in that situation.
Brian Wheeler: You mentioned working with the guys that are presently on your team coming back to get in some work in the offseason. Some gym time would normally be taken up with predraft workouts and so forth, getting a look at guys, as presently stands, the Blazers don’t have a draft choice. So is this as unusual a time leading up to a draft that you can remember?
Terry Stotts: Well it is. It’s really difficult for Neil (Olshey) and his staff because when you prepare for a draft and you know what picks you have, you kind of lock in, you put your board up and you lock into kind of those picks assuming, you might might a trade or something, but now, you really have to be extremely prepared one through 60. Because if we’re able to jump into the draft — and I don’t know if we will or not — you have to be prepared in the event that something comes up on draft day, you have to still be prepared to make a pick and it could still be one through 60. You really don’t know. It’s a challenge but I think Neil has obviously shown what a gifted talent evaluator he is. He’s willing and prepared to make moves for the franchise. It’s going to be an interesting time. I don’t know what is going to happen on draft day, but it’s going to be an interesting day.
Antonio Harvey: It’s almost like that gift that you don’t know what’s in the box, you know you got something. I can’t remember a time where Paul (Allen) and his staff didn’t do something on draft day, something special to give the Blazers a little bit of an edge.
Terry Stotts: You know, in all fairness, this year we had a very young team. We had eight players in their first or second year. The fact that we don’t have any draft picks, our draft picks are working out right now. Those guys have to improve. They are our young talent moving forward.
Brian Wheeler: You and I were talking about this last week that, in terms of the process leading up to the draft, you’re not so sure that maybe less emphasis shouldn’t be placed on these predraft workouts anyway.
Terry Stotts: I can’t comment on the process, but I think every team obviously has a scouting staff and they work all year in evaluating these players. They go to college games, they do the backgrounds, they watch a ton of video. Leading into June, they’ve done 90, 95 percent, they know these guys in the draft. To have players come in, I think it’s valuable to meet a guy, take him out to dinner, get to know him and talk to him. I think that is extremely valuable to get to know the kid or at least get an idea of who he is. But a 45 minute workout, I don’t think changes the opinion of what you’ve worked a year or two in evaluating that player.
Antonio Harvey: And most guys workout by themselves now, so you really have nothing to gauge because there’s no one-on-one, two-on-two or three-on-three competition.
Brian Wheeler: And it seems like a lot of guys are inviting teams to come see them as opposed to making the trek to see the team, so the agents, as usual, having some control over things.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (STOTTS IS ASKED ABOUT THEIR FOUR BAR FRIDAY RAP)
Brian Wheeler: Neil always talks about your time is the season, his time is the offseason. Have you guys had many conversations about what could unfold that day or is it still far too early to know?
Terry Stotts: We talk about our roster and what we need going forward. Whether it happens on draft day, we haven’t spoken about any specific draft day scenarios. I think it’s too early for that. A lot of those things kind of pop up. We’ve certainly talked about the future and the direction of the team and what we need going forward. Obviously Mo Williams has the opportunity to opt out of his contract, Earl Watson is going to be a free agent. Those are the two possible roster spots that we have. We don’t know what’s going to happen with either one of them, to be honest. You just don’t know. This is Neil’s time and I’m really thankful to have a guy like Neil who really knows his way around the league and evaluates talents and look at different angles and different scenarios. It’s going to be an exciting time.
Antonio Harvey: You talk about the needs of the team. What are some of the key areas you think this summer need to be addressed. Not necessarily from an individual player standpoint, what are you looking to see from your team in terms of what you want to see from them next year?
Terry Stotts: Our improvement has to come at the defensive end, how that happens. We manage to do a good job on offense. I know everybody criticized and critiqued our bench performance, but the bottom line, I’m looking at the team performance. We’re in the Top 5 in offense and we’re 16th in defense. Our goal was to be in the top half of the league defensively and we were almost there and that got us to the second round. We need to bump that up. I’d like to be in the Top 10 in both offense and defense. I think that puts you in a championship mode. I look at our consistency, how we can get better defensively is my biggest concern. A lot of it is going to be getting better in transition defense. Our pick and roll defense was solid. Our weakside defense, I think, is going to be the big area where we are more alert on the weakside. I think that will help — we were obviously low in forcing turnovers. I think we’ll force more turnovers by being more alert on the weakside and being in better help position rather than necessarily trying to steal the ball and intercept passes and gambling. I think our fundamental structure of what we implemented last year was good. We just have to improve on it this year.
Antonio Harvey: Gary Payton talked to Chris Haynes about Damian Lillard’s defense. He said if he wants to be a better player he needs to get better on the defensive side of the ball. I don’t think there was anything new that Dame hadn’t heard before. To hear it come from Gary, who really was a good defender, but if you were to compare the two they’re on even footing because Dame is so much better offensively than Gary was at this stage in his career.
Terry Stotts: You really can’t compare the two. Gary is 6-5 — you played with him, he’s 6-5, 6-6. He made his mark as a defensive player and grew into an offensive player. Obviously he’s a Hall of Fame player and he knows the game and he’s been around it for a long time. So the advice he’s giving is good advice. But to make a comparison, other than the fact they’re from Oakland, I think is unfair to both of them, to be honest.
Brian Wheeler: One of the things he did say, though, is he seemed to indicate it isn’t so much a strategic or fundamental thing, he almost said defense is a mindset. Do you agree with that?
Terry Stotts: Yeah. I think the best defenders in the league are really in tuned, mentally, every possession, both on the ball and off ball. In the old days when you could isolate players and you could post up players, then one-on-one defense became even more of a premium because you had to stop that guy because you couldn’t go double team. Well now the NBA has evolved into a movement passing, like San Antonio, where you have to be able to, first of all offensive, incorporate a lot of different people. But your team defense has become much more of a priority, because it’s not about shutting down one guy. You can go double team, but it’s about everybody being involved and everybody being in a position to help and get back and guard your guy and limit penetration, limit easy baskets, all those things. It certainly is a mentality, but it’s being in tune and not thinking about the last shot that you just missed.
Brian Wheeler: Coach, how do you kind of balance the offseason? We know that players get better and the best ones add something from one season to the next and the offseason is the time to do that. But it isn’t a time when you’re totally devoid of thinking about basketball, but also a good chance to get some down time and spend some time with your wife and family and friends. How do you balance the mix in these months?
Terry Stotts: I got out of town a little bit after the playoffs, visited some family in the midwest. June and July are pretty much filled with basketball. It’s not high pressure but we’re in the gym with our young guys and July is summer league. August is really a time where you’re able to do a little traveling. We haven’t decided what we’re going to do but in the post, we like taking a drip here or there. Then September comes around and you’re back at it.
When the Western Conference first round series between the Trail Blazers and Clippers started, many assumed it would be a quick affair, with the Clippers eventually moving on to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round. And after Warriors point guard Stephen Curry suffered a knee injury that will keep the reigning MVP sidelined for the start of the second round, much of the conversation revolved around how that would improve the Clippers’ chances of beating the defending champs in the Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers still had to beat the Trail Blazers two more times didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
A few days later, that narrative has flipped. Leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in Game Six tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM), the Trail Blazers are now Golden State’s presumptive opponent, as injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have all but ended the Clippers’ playoff run.
But just as the Clippers still had to win four games to advance, so too do the Trail Blazers, which is a good reminder that there are no such thing as inevitability when it comes to sports. “That’s why the play the game,” might be trite, but it’s still as true as it ever was, something the Trail Blazers know as well as any team still alive in the postseason.
“We just go out there and play, we don’t really pay attention to what’s being said,” said CJ McCollum. “You can’t read into that too much. First we were supposed to get swept, first we were just happy to win a game, so you just go play. You don’t really worry about the other stuff, you just control what you can control, keep your mindset the same, understand that nothing is inevitable. You’ve got to go out there and play.”
Though the Trail Blazers were able to beat the Clippers 108-98 at Staples Center in Game Five sans Paul and Blake, a team led by JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers still managed to take a five-point lead into the half and had the game tied at 71-71 going into the fourth quarter, so it’s not as if any team, including Portland, can just roll the ball out in a playoff game and expect to emerge with the victory. After all, if that were the case, the Clippers would already be in Oakland preparing for the Western Conference semifinals.
“We understand that they’re a good team,” said McCollum “Regardless of what’s happened, regardless of what injuries they’ve gone through, they’re still a good team and we’ve still got to go play the game.”
And we’re back. After the Trail Blazers defeated a shorthanded Clippers team 109-98 in Game Five at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the first round series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studios once again to deliver another playoff edition of the Rip City Report podcast. Please consider listening…
On this episode, Joe and I discuss the Trail Blazers being on the verge of winning just their second playoff series in the last 16 years, what we’re expecting to see during Game Six Friday in Portland, make our picks for the Trail Blazers’ MVP and most surprising during the first five games, how the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin change the narrative surrounding the series and answer some of your Twitter-submitted questions regarding Chris Kaman’s birthday, non-Moda Center places to watch Game Six, player playoff bonuses and give a few binge watching suggestions, not that you’d ever need to watch TV again with all these fine podcasts we’re providing for you.
After struggling in the first few games of their first round playoff series, the play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Games Three, Four and Five has been one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers hold a 3-2 advantage versus the Clippers. Mason Plumlee has arguably been Portland’s most valuable player, and both Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have delivered game-changing performances at times during the series, but the attention Lillard and McCollum draw from the Clippers’ defense has allowed for their teammates to have a chance to shine in the postseason. And despite L.A.’s defensive gameplan focusing almost exclusively on stopping Portland’s starting backcourt, Lillard and McCollum are combining to average just over 40 points a game during the 2016 playoffs.
Given that, and the fact that they even made the playoffs, let alone are a game away from winning Portland’s second playoff series in the last 15 years, TNT analyst Charles Barkley declared on last night’s edition of “Inside The NBA” that Portland’s backcourt is second only to Golden State’s, the team the Trail Blazers would face should they advance to the next round.