Blazers hope to begin coach candidate interviews this week

NBA Basketball

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)The Portland Trail Blazers are compiling a list of possible candidates to replace coach Terry Stotts and general manager Neil Olshey said Monday that he hopes to start conducting a first round of virtual interviews this week.

Rumors swirled this weekend about possible candidates after Stotts was fired Friday, a day after the Blazers were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs, but Olshey said the team is still preparing the list to give to team owner Jody Allen.

”We’re running a very expansive, diverse search. We’ll probably have anywhere from 20 to 25 candidates in there with biographical data, background, intel, impact studies, coaching records, playing records, etc., so that we all are speaking the same language as we vet these candidates,” he said. ”I have not reached out to any teams or agents to request permission to conduct formal interviews until we’ve had a chance to review all those materials.”

Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd withdrew his name from consideration during an interview with ESPN after it was reported that Damian Lillard had endorsed him for the job. The names of other possible candidates also were bandied about over the weekend.

”Rumors move fast but process moves slow,” Olshey said.

Stotts coached the Blazers for nine seasons, taking them to the playoffs in the last eight. But Portland has failed to advance past the first round in four of the last five years.

The 63-year-old Stotts was the NBA’s fourth-longest tenured coach in his current job behind only San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle. He went 402-318 in his nine regular seasons in Portland, with the eight playoff berths, and led the team to the Western Conference finals in 2019 – where the Blazers were swept by Golden State.

He wrote a letter Saturday to fans thanking them, as well as everyone connected to the team, for his time in Portland.

”Being the head coach of the Trail Blazers has been a life-changing experience,” he wrote. ”There have been so many special memories that my wife, Jan, and I will always cherish; memories involving wonderful people and lasting friendships.”

Olshey said one of the glaring issues for the Blazers has been defense. The team’s defensive rating was 29th in the league.

”It’s not acceptable,” he said. ”At 29th, you are finishing below teams that are literally in rebuild.”

The new coach will certainly be lured by the chance to work with one of the game’s dynamic scorers in Lillard. Olshey said Lillard will have input in the decision.

Lillard fueled speculation about his own future in Portland following the elimination loss to the Nuggets. He posted a photo of himself in street clothes at the Moda Center. The caption that he added quoted the late rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle.

”How long should I stay dedicated?” he wrote. ”How long til opportunity meet preparation?”

Lillard averaged a league-best 34.3 points and 10.2 assists in the playoffs, after averaging 28.8 points and 7.5 assists during the regular season.

A six-time All-Star, Lillard just wrapped up his ninth NBA season. The closest he’s come to a title was that quick trip to the West finals in 2019.

Olshey responded to a question about his own job security, given his hand in building the team.

”Well, I’m running the coaching search. I have multiple years left on my contract. I think the feeling is that in this instance, while in the past there might have been questions, the first-round loss and the defensive rating at 29 was not a product of the roster,” Olshey said. ”I will tell you that all of us, myself included, serve at the pleasure of Jody Allen and we will all be here for as long as she sees value in our contribution.”

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