Near the start of the pandemic last year, former Pistons guard Chauncey Billups was participating in the NBA’s HORSE competition. By the end of the year, he was added to Tyronn Lue’s coaching staff with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Billups now finds himself on the brink of being named the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple reports. The only holdup is the Clippers are still in the playoffs, with a 3-1 deficit to the Phoenix Suns in the conference finals.
Mr. Big Shot might be getting his big shot in coaching.
It’s not the typical path for a new coach, where they have to take over a struggling, moribund franchise and try to make the best of a bad situation. The Blazers made the playoffs in eight of the nine seasons with Terry Stotts at the helm, but they had five first-round exits. Stotts and the Blazers mutually parted ways this month, after another early exit.
Damian Lillard has been their star for the last nine seasons, and Billups’ consideration likely comes at the behest of Lillard, who has a supermax contract and whom the Blazers cannot afford to lose if he’s unhappy. If he wants Billups, get him Billups.
Billups, 44, was the Finals MVP of the Pistons’ 2004 championship team and his No. 1 jersey is retired in rafters at Little Caesars Arena. He’s among the biggest icons in the Pistons’ franchise, though he was only with the team for six-plus seasons before being traded to his hometown Denver Nuggets in the infamous Allen Iverson trade in 2008.
For many years, Billups has been open about his desire to lead a team, either in the front office or in the coaching ranks. He turned down an opportunity in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ front office and had been in consideration for a coaching job with the Indiana Pacers previously.
With Lillard and a talented roster with the Blazers, it could be an excellent opportunity for Billups in Portland, which is something that many first-time Black coaches don’t get very often. They’re poised to be a playoff team again, but maybe just need a new voice and some roster tweaking to make another big step forward.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Clippers have fallen behind in a playoff series. It’s an all-too-familiar refrain for the star-studded team that seems to make every series harder than it needs to be, especially against lower competition.
Sure, the Clippers don’t have Kawhi Leonard, but they had a chance to get back in the series even after their loss in Game 1. They had Game 2 in their hands in the final seconds, but Paul George added to his playoff misery with two missed free throws, allowing the Phoenix Suns to get a last shot and to take a 2-0 series lead.
The Clippers have an uphill climb to get out of their 3-1 hole, but they have talent and coaching to do it. It’s just another challenge for them to overcome — and they’re all too used to it.
Credit the Suns for being resilient and for treading water until Chris Paul could get back in the lineup. They’ve been the most consistent team in the playoffs and after dispatching the Lakers, they’ve looked like the favorite in the West, which has been the tougher road to the NBA Finals.
Maybe they’ll be able to finish things off and get Paul his first chance at a title.
The East has provided two of the biggest upsets this year, with the Hawks dumping the Sixers and Bucks outlasting the heavily-favored Nets. It’s been a coming-out party for Trae Young and Atlanta — and to their credit, they have hung in with all of the higher seeds they’ve faced. It’s a top-notch coaching job by Nate McMillan, who only needs to show some playoff film if there’s a question about whether he should have the interim tag removed from his title.
The Hawks haven’t had this level of success since the era of Dominique Wilkins, and even though Atlanta isn’t a top-tier sports city, they have something real to root for in July. The future is bright, even if they don’t get to the Finals.
Kevin Durant had one of the most exciting playoffs performances in years with his heroics in Game 7, though the shorthanded Nets fell short. James Harden was hurt and Kyrie Irving hobbled through the end of series. It was a worst-case scenario for the Nets, who had predicated everything on their Big Three, but couldn’t overcome the injuries.
Even the teams with the most talent don’t always win the title. It takes a lot of talent and coaching, but also tons of luck.