Stotts’ Staff is a Columbian series on the Portland Trail Blazers coaching staff. From the tactical to the emotional, the staff help maintain the team’s culture. Despite dealing with more injuries than last season, the Blazers are still in second place in the Western Conference. Stotts and general manager Neil Olshey have credited the assistants with the development of Portland’s younger players which has been crucial to maintaining the team’s success this season. Portland (30-11) is currently second in the Western Conference.
TUALATIN, Ore. — Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Dale Osbourne blew out both of his knees his senior year at University of South Alabama.
But he was brought on as a graduate assistant and made his 25-year journey through every rank of basketball you could imagine before ending up in the Pacific Northwest. Most recently, he was the head coach of the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Developmental League.
“I couldn’t imagine my life without it,” he said of basketball.
Osbourne spent 13 years coaching in basketball’s minor leagues.
Stops in places like Dodge City, Kan., where the job is to help players achieve their goals of just signing an overseas contract or getting a call-up for very little pay reveal the dedication someone has to their craft. And Osbourne is truly a student of the game and an important teacher for the Blazers.
“I like to tell people the NBA’s like Kentucky and the minor leagues is like junior college,” he said.
Stotts' Staff is a Columbian series on the Portland Trail Blazers coaching staff. From the tactical to the emotional, the staff help maintain the team's culture. Despite dealing with more injuries than last season, the Blazers are still in second place in the Western Conference. Stotts and general manager Neil Olshey have credited the assistants with the development of Portland's younger players which has been crucial to maintaining the team's success this season. Portland (30-11) is currently second in the Western Conference.
In his studies of the game, he found an interview with legendary Pistons and 1992 Dream Team coach Chuck Daly.
And it’s a lesson he uses to keep the spirits of the Blazers up and perhaps it’s part of what makes Portland one of the NBA’s most cohesive teams.
“The reporter asked him if there was anything he could do over, what would he do? And he said I would talk to my players more,” Osbourne remembers “And that kind of jumped off the page at me. Because here’s a guy whose very successful — two NBA championships — but he said I would talk to them more.”
Being an NBA assistant is part scout, part workout partner and part psychologist.
The Blazers call him “Oz.”
Joel Freeland credits Osbourne with helping him stay on task to get his work in.
Victor Claver has said that he can talk to Oz about anything and credits him with always keeping enthusiasm in everything he does.
“Not just in individual workouts but when he does video and scouting of the other team he always has a ton of energy,” Claver said. “And that’s contagious.”
Will Barton goes as far as to say that Osbourne has kept him in the league. Barton has never been bashful about his talent but he said that Oz helped him become a professional.
“He’s one of those guys that stay in the trenches with you,” Barton said. “I mean, he’ll get in the gym and work out with you. Not just work out, but he’ll get in the drills with you. He’s special man.”
Osbourne has been even more crucial this season as Barton has barely played after coming in with expectations for himself after an impressive playoff performance.
“Guys like Coach Oz kept me in it,” Barton said. “Without him, I don’t know where I’d be right now in the NBA. “
“I don’t want to tell players what they want to hear. I want to tell them what they need to hear,” Osbourne said. “And every day they have to hear, ‘Stay ready, stay positive — and get better.’ And so far, they’ve bought into that.”
Portland’s chemistry is a big reason why the team is successful, but having every player buy into the concept is not easy.
But the passion is always there from Osbourne, and he understands that the players have to maintain their confidence — not only so they are ready to play, but also so they are ready to compete against the starters in practice.
“These guys they want to play,” Osbourne said. “And they think they’re better and that’s good. Because if they didn’t have that attitude they wouldn’t be here.”
During games, Osbourne is behind the bench and is rarely seen. But for many of the Blazers, he’s there for them when they most need it.
After that, it’s just basketball. But as Osbourne tells it, everything else might take more work and be just as important to winning games.