Terry Stotts was introduced as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, and to most of the local media he'll be viewed as that most-unfortunate of NBA lifers. The retread. The respected mind without the respected record, borderline uninspiring, someone that you know has passed through town before while coaching other squads (in Terry's case, Milwaukee and Atlanta), but little beyond that.
Head coaches who have bounced around with a poor record can build up a long list of frustrations along the way. They know that it could be a significant injury, a bum draft pick, a nasty division or any combination of outside factors that led to their demise in the other cities, so the regrets might number in the dozens. The great Ben Golliver of Blazer's Edge, in talking to Stotts on Tuesday, found out that Terry's top regret as a coach is pretty strangely specific; though not surprising for a hoops junkie like Stotts. Here's his story:
I asked that softball, obvious question on Wednesday and Stotts replied without missing a beat.
"In a game against Memphis, I wish we had purposefully missed a free throw," he said while seated at a Rose Garden media room table, surrounded by a handful of reporters.
Wait, what? What was the time/score situation?
"Travis Hansen had a free throw," Stotts said. "If he had missed, [time would have run out]. He made it, and James Posey made a 40-footer to tie the game and we lost in double overtime."
Yep. Biggest coaching regret of Terry Stotts' career? Not asking Travis Hansen (somehow still in the NBA at that point, somehow in a game during crunch time) to miss a free throw that would have turned a potential 40-foot heave from Posey into a 90-foot prayer (from whomever grabbed the rebound) due to the clock starting as soon as the miss hit the rim.
Posey's make, while remarkable (I actually do have some recollection of the play, which might make me perhaps the saddest person in this story), isn't even available for viewing on YouTube. And everything is on YouTube. You're probably on there right now, without even knowing it. Just streamin' away.
It probably isn't the biggest hook Stotts could have introduced himself to Portland with, but it's a pretty cool one. Stotts was introduced to the media not long after Team USA downed Australia on Wednesday, with most national media either in London covering that game, or typing away at their laptops while stateside about Kobe Bryant's breakout performance. Even the feed of Stotts' initial press conference on Portland's official website went out midway through, at least for me. Save for meeting the media 'round midnight on a Friday in the parking lot of a Shoney's, this was as under the radar as things get.
Stotts doesn't have to impress the national media, though. They'll be mindful of his time spent on Rick Carlisle's championship staff in Dallas, but unenthused overall.
What Terry has to do is win over the Blazers faithful, a group of fans that know what good basketball looks like even after being disappointed time and time again over the last 30-plus years by just about every level that an NBA team employs. Near-tearful talk about letting fans in Milwaukee and Atlanta down, while chatting it up with local reporters during one-on-one time following the main press conference, will just appear as pablum to this lot.
Bringing up a blown possession in a meaningless (even then) contest from 8 1/2 years ago? Yes, this is what will win the hearts of those who obsess over both teams and sites all about hoops deep into the NBA's dead offseason. We're not being snarky. That's something to get the punters on your side.
Earlier in the month we carefully discussed Stotts' merits, and we're sticking with them. And Blazer fans, no matter how frustrated, understand that things aren't going to change all that quickly in Portland no matter the hire. Even if it was Phil Jackson. Even with two players making major dough in LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, the Blazers are rebuilding. They just hired a new GM after what must have been a lovely year without an actual GM on the payroll, and the team is attempting to make it back to prominence following the wallop of watching two potential franchise players (Greg Oden and Brandon Roy) limp off into the sunset.
(Or Minnesota. Whatever.)
Stotts could fall flat, and the hire could be a favor (he and new Portland GM Neil Olshey share an agent) gone wrong. Things might not work out in Portland. He could be a lifelong assistant. The reputation, in spite of the bum moves made by his GMs in Milwaukee and Atlanta, might be earned.
His work on Wednesday, though, was on point. Talking to a local journalist, writing for a site designed for obsessive fans, Stotts came off as someone who cares to a ridiculous degree. True, it might be better to have loftier regrets (a misstep in the NBA Finals, perhaps), but meeting a coach who cares to a ridiculous degree is every fan's dream.
And Portland, forever weird, loves the obscure find. Stotts will fit right in.