By Frank McLean
As we head towards the end of the NBA regular season and gear up for the start of the playoffs, pundits like myself start taking a look at who should win the various awards for their achievements during the regular season.
In my opinion, there has been only one candidate for NBA Coach of the Year honors and that’s Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Nobody had Portland being a playoff contender before the season began. The reason is teams that replace four-fifths of their starting line-up from one season to next usually don’t make the playoffs.
Portland said good bye to Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nick Batum. Damian Lillard remained as the only starter from last year.
Brought in to play with Lillard in the starting five was Al-Farouq Aminu and Noah Vonleh at forward, center Mason Plumlee and C.J. McCollum at guard who has teamed up with Lillard to give Portland as good a one-two punch at that position than any team in the league.
At the All-Star break Portland was sitting at .500 with a 27-27 mark. Since then they have gone 14-10 and are in sixth place in the Western Conference at 41-37 just a half a game back of Memphis who have a game in hand on Portland.
“The key to our success is that we have a great group of young players who have worked hard from the beginning to just get better,” Stotts said when Portland visited Toronto in early March. “They are getting better individually and collectively and they are a hungry group.
“They showed what they can do at the beginning of the season and the goal was to get better and we have done that.”
The main cog to Portland’s success has been Lillard. In early February when the teams for the All-Star game in Toronto were announced his name was absent. People who follow the NBA on a daily basis felt this was an injustice.
Lillard went crazy in February averaging 29.8 points a game and scoring 20-plus in 12 straight games, but it’s his leadership skills that Stotts praises.
“From pre-season workouts and on you see things in the locker room and in the huddles, you see the things you want from your best player and your leader,” Stotts said. “He has a great way about him to get the most out of his teammates.”
With four games left in the regular season they have not mathematically clinched a playoff spot, but only a disaster would see them not get to the postseason and that seems unlikely.
Also, this is a team that could pull off a first round upset if they get the right match up. However, right now they would get Oklahoma City where they would be the heavy underdog. If they can make up the Grizzlies half game advantage and finish in fifth place they would get the LA Clippers and that might be a better fit.
Regardless, balloting for Coach of the Year is based on the regular season.
With all the big changes to the Trail Blazers roster last summer, Portland making the playoffs should be good enough for Stotts to win NBA Coach of Year.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.
Trail Blazers Terry Stotts Explains Winning
Stotts could be considered lucky that everything has come together for the Trail Blazers and his team is exceeding expectations, but luck had nothing to do with it.