Portland, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers went into damage-control mode while introducing former Piston Chauncey Billups as their new coach Tuesday, amid questions about how they selected him over more experienced candidates and how sexual assault allegations were lodged against him nearly a quarter-century ago.
Billups never faced charges related to those allegations that came out in 1997 and settled out of court with the accuser three years later. He addressed that chapter Tuesday, though when he was asked to elaborate on some of those comments the Trail Blazers refused to let him answer.
Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations, said the team hired an independent firm to look into the sexual assault allegations and determined that nothing nonconsensual had occurred.
“We stand by Chauncey, everyone in the organization, and believe he’s the right choice to be our head coach, and the right choice to be the kind of ambassador in the Portland community everybody here has become accustomed to,” Olshey said.
Billups, a five-time NBA All-Star over a 17-year playing career, has never been a head coach. He has served as an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers for the past season.
The 44-year-old Billups spoke broadly about the concerns from the 1997 allegations, saying “there’s not a day that goes by” in which he doesn’t think about the impact any decision can have on someone’s life.
“I learned at a very young age — as a player, and not only a player but a young man, a young adult — that every decision, has consequences,” Billups said. “And that’s led to some really, really healthy, but tough conversations that I’ve had to have with my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time in 1997, and my daughters about what actually happened, and about what they may have to read about me in the news and then the media.”
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When a reporter asked Billups to elaborate, a moderator said the question had already been answered and called on another reporter.
The Blazers settled on Billups after an interview process where several people — San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon among them — were talked to about the job. Others known to have been on Portland’s list were Brooklyn assistant Mike D’Antoni and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, who withdrew his name from consideration.
Olshey praised Hammon, who has been with the Spurs as an assistant under Gregg Popovich for seven seasons. At one point, Hammon was said to be the favorite of Jody Allen, owner of the Blazers and sister of the late Paul Allen.
“We absolutely admire Becky. She did a great job. Obviously, making it as far as the ownership level of an interview process isn’t easy,” Olshey said. “If you start with 20, we narrowed it down to about six or seven we did Zooms with as kind of a second round, and then she made it all the way to the ownership level, which is really an endorsement of just how far she’s come and how close she is to being a head coach.
“This was a diverse list of candidates,” he added. “We felt like we were in an equitable search.”
Over the course of his career, Billups played for Boston, Toronto, Denver, Minnesota, Detroit, New York and the Clippers. Known as “Mr. Big Shot,” he was MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals after leading the Pistons to a title.
This season with the Clippers is his lone coaching experience.
Olshey, who as former GM of the Clippers claimed Billups off waivers in 2011, addressed Billups’ lack of coaching credentials. He believes Billups has potential, plus thinks he will mesh well with Blazers guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
“Chauncey checked a lot of the boxes. We were looking for leadership, he’s renowned as one of the great leaders we’ve had in the NBA. He’s a Hall of Fame point guard … obviously our two best players are guards like Chauncey. He can relate to them,” Olshey said. “He’s got the presence to hold guys accountable and Chauncey and I have some history as well, we go back beyond our relationship with the Clippers.”
The Blazers parted ways with former coach Terry Stotts shortly after the team was eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs.
Stotts coached the Blazers for nine seasons, taking them to the playoffs in the last eight. But Portland failed to advance past the first round in four of the last five years.