The Portland Trail Blazers finished with the third-best record in the Western Conference a season ago, but a first-round sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans reportedly nearly cost head coach Terry Stotts his job.
According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, Portland ownership "came close" to firing Stotts following the disappointing result, and opposing teams, including the Phoenix Suns, had begun to inquire about Stotts' interest in their respective coaching vacancies.
Stotts has been a head coach with two other organizations, leading the Atlanta Hawks (2002-04) to a 52-85 record and the Milwaukee Bucks (2005-07) to a 63-83 mark. While he had never recorded a winning season as a head coach prior to Portland, he did win an NBA title as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
The 60-year-old has a 283-225 career record in six-plus seasons in Portland, making the postseason in each of the last five years. He led the Trail Blazers to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference a season ago, only to be knocked out by the sixth-seeded Pelicans.
Portland has lost 10 consecutive playoff games and has been swept in the first round in each of the past two seasons.
Per Lowe, then-Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen (who died of cancer in October) called the latest postseason failure "unacceptable." That had some wondering if a shake-up was imminent. Ultimately, though, Stotts was not relieved of his duties—possibly because he had the support of the locker room.
"I was asked what I thought, and I just said I love him as a coach," Damian Lillard said, according to Lowe. "We all love him."
The three-time All-Star isn't the only one to show his coach some love. Lowe noted that CJ McCollum congratulated Stotts last season with an $1,800 bottle of Bordeaux after the coach moved into third place on the franchise's all-time wins list. Stotts is now just eight victories behind Rick Adelman for No. 2.
Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey was also reportedly in the coach's corner.
Prior to Stotts' arrival (as well as Lillard's and McCollum's), Portland had made just three postseason appearances in nine years. It has not missed the playoffs since his first year on the job, which was Lillard's rookie season and the year before the team drafted McCollum. Meanwhile, the Blazers have averaged 45.3 victories over the past six seasons.
Portland has made it past the first round just twice since 2001 and has not made it out of the conference semifinals during that span. The recent run of success, though, has the franchise believing it has a core capable of winning. According to Lowe, the team wants to add a third impact player to complement Lillard and McCollum.
Stotts and Co. were put on notice after last season, but they have responded. They are sitting atop the West at 11-5. It's not clear if Stotts is coaching for his job in 2018-19, but helping the Trail Blazers win their first championship since 1977 (and their second ever) would be a good way to solidify his position.