Trail Blazers could lose Damian Lillard in backlash over hiring of Chauncey Billups as coach

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Portland Trail Blazers have an angry fanbase and an unhappy superstar.

The fallout from the Blazers’ decision to hire Chauncey Billups as their next head coach despite accusations that he was involved in a sexual assault allegation in 1997 has ramifications on the franchise’s future.

Despite the objections of Blazers fans who expressed their opposition to the Billups hire on social media and elsewhere, Portland announced the hiring in an 8:30 p.m. PT email on Sunday.

The Blazers did not appear moved by fan sentiment.

“Chauncey is a proven leader with an elite basketball IQ that has won everywhere he has been,” Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said in a statement. “He is prepared for the challenge of developing the Championship habits and strategic approach we need to achieve the expectations and goals for our franchise.”

Blazers owner Jody Allen said of Chauncey Billups, “He has demonstrated throughout his career, first as a player, and currently as an assistant coach a unique ability to lead."
Blazers owner Jody Allen said of Chauncey Billups, “He has demonstrated throughout his career, first as a player, and currently as an assistant coach a unique ability to lead."

In a sentence that was not attributed to anyone, the Blazers news release said, “The Trail Blazers conducted a thorough and equitable search and Billups is the right choice to lead the organization to the playoffs and beyond.”

The hire has left Damian Lillard frustrated and in a position where he is defending himself on Twitter. Lillard gave initial support for Billups as a candidate but as outcry grew louder amid the pending hire and some fans blamed Lillard for supporting Billups, Lillard tweeted, “Really? I was asked what coaches I like of the names I “heard” and I named them. Sorry I wasn’t aware of their history I didn’t read the news when I was 7/8yrs old. I don’t support Those things … but if this the route y’all wana come at me… say less.”

Lillard’s frustration had been growing before the Billups hire and since the end of the Blazers’ season when they lost to Denver in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about Lillard’s situation.

This is the Blazers’ second consecutive first-round exit for after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2019. Of Portland’s eight consecutive playoff appearances, it lost in the first round five times.

Lillard has long professed a commitment to Portland. In 2019, he signed a four-year, $176 million extension. The first year of that extension starts in 2021-22, and Lillard has a player option following the third year of deal and can become a free agent in 2025.

Damian Lillard has been frustrated by Portland's playoffs failures as well as the way the coach hiring process played out.
Damian Lillard has been frustrated by Portland's playoffs failures as well as the way the coach hiring process played out.

"I think we've built something special," Lillard said after signing the deal. "It's real genuine. The environment we've created is something I've been a part of and something I want to continue to be a part of.”

But in the NBA, circumstances change quickly. Lillard wants to compete for a championship and is beginning to wonder if that can happen with the Blazers, the person told USA TODAY Sports.

Lillard hasn’t asked for a trade, but that’s an option on the table. While it’s just the first year of the deal and the Blazers have some leverage, if it came to that, it’s been proven stars eventually get their way.

It’s practical for Lillard to see how this works with Billups and see what kind of moves the front office can make to build a better team in a talented and deep Western Conference. Where the Blazers are at the 2022 All-Star break and 2022 playoffs will determine Lillard’s future.

The only sports newsletter you need: Get exclusive content and expert analysis on the biggest stories of the day. Sign up here!

The Blazers have a press conference Tuesday to introduce Billups, and Billups and Olshey likely will answer questions about the rape allegation and why the Blazers made the hire.

A woman alleged she was raped in 1997 by Billups and then-Boston Celtics teammate Ron Mercer at the home of Antoine Walker, another Celtics player. Billups, who was a 21-year-old rookie at the time, was never charged with a crime and settled a civil lawsuit in 2000 filed by the woman.

The Celtics selected Chauncey Billups (left) with the No. 3 overall pick and selected Ron Mercer with the No. 6 overall pick in 1997.
The Celtics selected Chauncey Billups (left) with the No. 3 overall pick and selected Ron Mercer with the No. 6 overall pick in 1997.

Jason Kidd, who the Dallas Mavericks have reached a deal with to become their next coach, was a potential candidate for the Blazers job. But he withdrew his name from consideration. Fans were also upset he was a candidate because of his domestic violence plea in 2001.

According to ESPN, the Blazers vetted Billups’ history and asked him about the rape allegations during the interview process. Either the Blazers didn’t anticipate the Billups fallout or felt they could push through it with the person Olshey wanted to hire. San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon and Brooklyn Nets coach Mike D’Antoni were also candidates for the job.

Jody Allen runs the Blazers and has been in charge since her brother Paul Allen died in 2018. She also signed off on the Billups hire as did Bert Kolde, the vice chair of the Seattle Seahawks and Blazers and executive vice president of sports strategy and operations at Vulcan Inc.

“Chauncey is a proven and consistent winner with NBA championship experience as an All-NBA player,” Allen said in a news release. “He has demonstrated throughout his career, first as a player, and currently as an assistant coach a unique ability to lead. We are very happy to welcome him to Portland.”

Not everyone is welcoming Billups to Portland as head coach of the Trail Blazers. The Blazers need to answer for that and address a star who doesn’t know if he wants a future with them.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

SUBSCRIBE: Help support quality journalism like this.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Blazers may lose Damian Lillard in backlash over Chauncey Billups hire