The Washington Wizards are in the midst of their first head coaching search since 2016. While they’re exploring the market, they should look at what’s happening with the Portland Trail Blazers as a cautionary tale of what not to do.
Earlier in June, the Trail Blazers parted ways with Terry Stotts after nine seasons. Chauncey Billups — former NBA champion and five-time All-Star — was soon linked to the job and eventually agreed to a five-year deal with the team. The Billups decision has quickly blown up on Portland, though.
The mistakes made by the Portland Trail Blazers should be a warning to the Washington Wizards.
Shortly after rumors of the Blazers’ interest in Billups leaked, the details of a 1997 sexual assault case involving Billups resurfaced. Even before the hiring was official, the Trail Blazers were heavily criticized for even pursuing a candidate with sexual assault allegations in his past. Criminal charges were never filed against Billups, and he eventually settled the civil case against him. You can read details in the police reports from Billups’ rape allegation here. Despite the allegations and the criticism, the Blazers decided Billups was their best option.
This is becoming an unfortunate pattern in the NBA. The Billups hiring came just days after Jason Kidd, who was arrested and later pled guilty to spousal abuse in 2001, was named the new head coach of the Dallas Mavericks. While Kidd has an illustrious resume as a player, he has a 183-190 record as an NBA head coach.
But that wasn’t the only issue with the Blazers’ coaching search. According to a report from Chris Haynes, Damian Lillard played “no part in consummating” the Billups hire, and “none of the candidates who were interviewed were from suggestions from Lillard.” That, mixed with Lillard losing faith in the organization’s ability to build a winner, has the trade-machine piranhas circling in the water. Lillard hasn’t officially requested a trade, but the Haynes report feels pretty close to one.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics have found a new head coach with no drama. The Celtics, after promoting former head coach Brad Stevens to the president of basketball operations, named Ime Udoka as their new head coach. No small factor in that decision was the endorsement from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, who were all impressed by Udoka’s during the 2019 FIBA World Cup, in which Udoka was an assistant for Team USA.
On the one hand, you have a team that made an intelligent decision based on input from their stars. In Boston, things seem to be trending upwards. And make no mistake about it, Udoka deserves this gig. He has the resume to warrant the hiring with or without endorsements from Tatum and Brown.
On the other hand, the Blazers ignored their franchise centerpiece and made a decision devoid of Lillard’s input. Now, trade rumors around Lillard are as loud as ever.
This should be a lesson to the Wizards, who are in the middle of their own head coaching search. While Bradley Beal has been impressively loyal to the Wizards, there is a chance that the trade demands finally come to fruition if the Wizards whiff on their hire. By no means should the Wizards make Beal their behind-the-scenes gm and give him carte blanche over the franchise’s decision-making, but making sure he is at least ok with the new hire is a must. Unlike the Blazers, who ignored Lillard and may have finally chased him away, the Wizards should (at least) consult Beal. Ensuring that the focal point of the franchise is comfortable working under the new head coach seems like an obviously important factor in all of this. Otherwise, we could be in for Beal’s final season in Washinton.
It’s yet to be seen whether Billups will work out in Portland or whether Udoka will work out in Boston. And all the trade drama around Lillard could die down. But there’s no denying that Udoka and the Celtics are starting off on a much better foot than Billups and the Blazers. Luckily for the Wizards, all the Blazers’ mistakes during this messy hiring have been avoidable. Hopefully, the Wizards were watching.