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News / Sports / Blazers

Stotts teaching Blazers to be winners

Coach makes 10-man rotation work

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer
Published: January 24, 2016, 8:05pm

PORTLAND — Most every day, head coach Terry Stotts will fire up one of his 60 or 70 Pandora stations and go for a stroll.

“Sometimes it’s drudgery just to get out there, but I always feel better physically and mentally,” Stotts said of his daily walks.

It’s not a surprise that Stotts, a former professional basketball player, likes to stay in shape. But the walks and the occasional drudgery that it brings are also a perfect metaphor for the NBA season, where the elements are unknown but the path must be followed.

Stotts’ even-keel may be his best asset and it’s something that has infected his team.

After 46 games, the Blazers are 20-26 and in the mix for the final playoff seed in the Western Conference along with the Utah Jazz and the Sacramento Kings, their opponent on Tuesday who currently hold the eighth playoff seed.

Stotts has been putting playoff thoughts in the minds of the Blazers since the very beginning and now that mindset has become a reality as the Blazers fight to make the postseason.

“You want to get things done and obviously people count us out this year and they still don’t think we’re for real,” Gerald Henderson said. “(Stotts) coming in every day and implementing to us that we can make the playoffs, we can be this kind of team. Staying on us to continue doing things that are going to make us a good team. He stays with that.”

The son of teachers, this year Stotts has had to use more of his teaching skills with the Blazers in a developmental year while also trying to make the playoffs.

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“Early in the season, even now he’s pulling me in to teach me things I can work on the court,” Noah Vonleh said. “Things I missed on the defensive end. Things to work on offensively. He’s a player’s coach, he’s really helping me out.”

Henderson and Vonleh are both interesting cases in relation to Stotts and both in their first year playing for him.

Henderson’s return from injury could have caused problems after missing the first three weeks of the season.

But rather than be rigid in his preference to play only nine players, he opened his rotation to 10 almost every game.

And with Vonleh, the move to insert him permanently into the starting lineup was met with skepticism after Meyers Leonard started the year as the starting center.

But the Blazers starting lineup with Vonleh on the court have a defensive rating (104.3) more in line with a playoff team than the one that started the season (110.7).

Stotts has found minutes for a respected veteran who came back from injury without causing friction among the players who saw their minutes cut.

And he’s found a role for the 20-year old Vonleh to develop as a player as flashes of what he could become are starting to happen more often.

What’s more is that Stotts has done all this without sacrificing the now for players having career seasons like Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Mason Plumlee.

The criteria for what makes a good coach in the NBA seems to have very little meaning these days.

And Stotts’ contract expires at season’s end, which has already created its fair share of curiosity.

Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said on “The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski” that he thought Stotts was a better coach than he was 3 1/2 years ago.

But until Stotts signs on the dotted line, questions will still linger.

On the other end of the curiosity spectrum, the Blazers performance makes it impossible not to wonder: Could they be doing this with anybody else in the hot seat?

We’ll never know, but one thing we know about Stotts and his teams since he came to Portland — they’ll keep on coming, drudgery or doubters be damned.

Columbian Trail Blazers Writer