As a kid, I remember my Blazers lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the NBA Finals, then they got knocked out of the first round the next six years. This of course was followed by losing in the Conference Finals two years in a row. Pretty depressing… During my years in Jr. High and High School we lost to the Lakers in the playoffs five of eight years. Even more disheartening…
Our best showings seemed to be when we had a solid coach. Rick Adelman took us to the Finals, and Mike Dunleavy brought us to the Conference Finals two years in a row. Dunleavy even got coach of the year in 1999. Then came the Maurice Cheeks era, where we didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. Most recently Nate McMillan did to the Blazers what he did to the Supersonics: Turn them from a sub-.500 team into a team that peaks in the first round of the playoffs. While I appreciate what Nate did while he was in Portland, I never once thought he would be able to lead us beyond where he did.
Regardless of the talent any team has, they don’t go far without a good coach. Since 1996 there has only been six coaches to win NBA Championships: Phil Jackson (8), Gregg Poppovich (4), Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Doc Rivers, and Rick Carlisle. Before the playoffs started I picked Pop to get his 5th trophy. His Spurs are looking pretty good right now. Brown and Riley are already in the Hall of Fame, Doc Rivers talent is undeniable, and Carlisle has only missed the playoffs once in 10 years as a head coach. Coaches mean a lot to a team’s success.
Blazer fans, as you already know, we need a coach. And if you didn’t know already, our owner is the richest owner in the NBA. Paul Allen is one of the 50 richest people in the world, and worth over $14 billion. It’s time for him to run this team with that kind of attitude.
Let me be clear, I don’t think he needs to start throwing money all over the place. I’m all for moneyball, while also enjoying Allen’s willingness to dance with the luxury tax. But he needs to run the Blazers like a billionaire runs his other investments. Hire other smart people to make things happen. He knows business, not basketball. Hopefully Allen’s choice for GM (soon coming!) is someone he will let manage this investment, and he’ll stop managing his GM.
The first item for our new GM is to get a coach. Kaleb Canales is a great guy, but he is not ready for the big time. Again, back to my point about coaches earlier, you need a good one if you want to win anything. If Paul Allen wants to win, he needs to hand his checkbook to the new GM and let him get one of the big names available.
Somewhere near the top of the list has to be Stan Van Gundy. He has been a Head Coach in the NBA for 8 years, and missed the playoffs only once. That was in 2006 when he resigned from the Miami Heat 21 games into the season, and funny enough, that team went on to win the NBA Championship. SVG has a career winning percentage of .641 in the regular season, and .552 in the playoffs. The guy wins games.
In addition to Van Gundy, Jerry Sloan’s name is popping up around the league, and maybe Jeff Van Gundy is tired of the announcers booth. Sloan was an NBA head coach from 1979 to 2011, and only missed the playoffs 4 times. He went to the Conference Finals six times, and from there the NBA Finals twice. JVG won over 57% of his games in New York and Houston, with one appearance in the Finals.
Mike D’Antoni still doesn’t have a job either. Though he doesn’t have quite the polished resume as these other guys, his style is to play fast. Blazer fans would love that. We were begging for Nate to pick up the pace the last couple years.
It would be a 1 in 1,000,000 chance, but Phil Jackson is also still healthy enough to coach. I don’t mention his name here because I think Portland could get him, but that I want an owner who is willing to spend that kind of money to go after a coach of that caliber if he had the opportunity.
As of right now, Portland has a General Manager about to be hired, no Head Coach named, and two lottery team picks. They also have only seven players locked in for 2011-2012: Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Babbitt, Nolan Smith, Kurt Thomas, Craig Smith, and Elliot Williams. Jamal Crawford and Shawne Williams have player options, Batum and JJ Hickson need qualifying offers, and everyone else has an expiring contract. The internet is buzzing with what the Blazers will do with the two picks. Use them? Trade one, use one? Trade both? Personally, I don’t care what we do as long as it makes us better.
Now is the time to go big or go home, Paul Allen. I discovered the Blazers at age 5, in 1988, ironically when you bought the team. As long as you have owned them, I have been cheering for them. This team is in a position with an opportunity to do something special, and make fans like me proud to have been supporting the team for a quarter century. If you’re not selling the team, don’t screw this up.