The Portland Trail Blazers introduced Chauncey Billups as their 15th coach Tuesday at a noon press conference. Billups, will replace Terry Stotts who mutually agreed to part ways with Portland bacon on June 4th, after 9 seasons with the team. Billups and the Blazers agreed to 5 year contract. 4 years guaranteed with an option for the 5th year. Billups played for 17 seasons in the NBA and most recently has served as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers who are still in the Playoffs.
The Press conference tool place at the Blazers practice facility.GM Neil Olshey and Chauncey Billups seemed a bit uncomfortable making their entrance together in front of the cameras. The awkwardness was palpable. Billups wife and daughters were sitting in the audience. CJ McCollum and Robert Covington sat behind them. The media lined up like sharks to their right ready with their questions. It didn’t quite feel like the excited preface of a new era in Blazers basketball. More like a funeral.
Olshey opened the conference by immediately addressing the 1997 rape allegations against Billups and the backlash that has followed news of his hiring. He started by affirming that he and the Blazers organization are aware of and have heard the concerns of fans and that they take such allegations very seriously. “…we’re aware of and understand the concerns That have been expressed by people regarding some serious allegations Chauncey faced in 1997. We took the allegations seriously and addressed them with the gravity they deserved.”
He asserted that the Blazers not only did a background check but also with Billups agreement hired a private firm to undertake an extensive investigation into the matter. The results of that investigation collaborated Billups version of events that nothing that was non consensual happened. The Blazers stand by Chauncey Billups and believe he is the best choice for their next head coach. He also offered that he has known Billups for years even before the guard played in Los Angeles when Olshey was GM there. He vouched for him. Pointed back later questions to his original comments on the matter and said fans would just have to trust him.
Billups himself seemed contrite and authentic in his answers to the press about the allegations. He spoke about how he had talked with his wife and daughters in the past about it and prior to the conference to prepare them. He came off as a mature older family man who was looking back at the ghosts of his young self. Someone, who after 24 years of experience looks back at the incident as the poor judgment of young adult who hung out with the wrong type of people. How he has learned that every decision has consequences for himself and everyone around him. While he stopped short of any substantial apology his words seemed heartfelt and perhaps penitent.
The Blazers had director of diversity Jenn Hunter act as a buffer for further questions pertaining to the allegations, citing those questions had already been answered. She quickly stepped in front of a question from Jason Quick. It was more of a goaltend than a block. It would have been constructive in unifying the team and the fans. It would have allowed for those who were still left concerned after the initial addressment of the matter, to gain a better insight of the Blazers investigation. Instead it felt like a cold shoulder.
Olshey answered questions about why the Blazers didn’t hire Becky Hammon, saying she was terrific and that making it to the executive level of the interviews says a lot about who she is. That in the end though, Billups was the best candidate for job. Olshey listed three qualifiers that helped pare down Billups as their final choice. He listed Billups strong leadership skills, the much needed defensive mindset he can bring to the team, and the fact he can identify with the Blazers two star guards, having been an MVP and all star guard himself.
Billups expressed that coaching for the Portland Trail Blazers was his dream job. That he would hold the players accountable, profess a defensive mindset, and upgrade the offense so that it would include Jusuf Nurkic, and less hero ball from Lillard and McCollum.
When asked about Lillard’s reported unhappiness, Olshey indicated that he has had many conversations with Lillard and that he has been part of the process. Lillard’s happiness according to Olshey is contingent on winning. Olshey stated that more stars don’t necessarily mean a championship, implying the struggle to bring star level players to small market Portland continues. It seems to be an indication he will opted to continue to try the more realistic approach of balancing the roster with small changes rather than executing a blockbuster trade. Olshey seems to be trying to let fans down easily who are hoping for a big move this summer.
A new era has begun in Portland today. It is not a shiny one. There are jagged edges and imperfections. Hopefully, it can be molded into something tangible. There is hope, but it also feels a bit tainted and disjointed by the continued displeasure of fans still unconvinced by Billups words or by the cursory addressment and how the Blazers so summarily closed the conversation on such a matter of high gravity. Whether you are for Billups or not there is optimism that we can all eventually come together and enjoy rooting the Blazers on once again.