Between Damian Lillard and the entire Boston Celtics organization, Chauncey Billups' stock skyrocketed as a potential NBA head coach. As the playoffs conclude, the NBA coaching carousel begins to slow, as most positions have been filled. Portland, Orlando, Indiana, Dallas, Washington and Boston all hired new head coaches. The only team with a vacancy left to fill is the New Orleans Pelicans.
As the old gets shoved out the door, the new is ushered in with hope and anticipation of an entire fan base. The shoulders of the men (and hopefully someday soon women) who carry those hopes must be wide and sturdy, lest they be crushed under the weight of a cities expectations. There lies in the vast expanse of the NBA coaching world, one candidate (actually two) every team should have hunted to acquire.
Chauncey Billups was recently hired to be the new head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. The decision came down to Billups versus Becky Hammon. To me, this decision was a no lose situation from a basketball perspective. The Blazers chose Billups, and despite patronizing comments from the owner, the decision was likely the correct one. Billups has everything it takes to be a great NBA head coach, and here are the reasons why.
NBA Guards as Coaches
Many NBA players coached at one time or another in the NBA. From the all-time greats like Bill Russell to the flashes in the pan like Larry Bird, their coaching careers vary in success. Former guards are undeniably tapped more often than any other position for coaching roles.
Bill Sharman is one of the first guards in NBA history to shoot above .400 percent. He accepted the role of head coach soon after he retired from the NBA in 1961. He would go on to win championships in three different leagues. This included winning the 1971-1972 NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers, who held the then-record for the best single-season record (69-13) in NBA history.
Another Celtic guard from that era, K.C. Jones, won two NBA titles as a head coach. During his playing days, he was a canny, defensive-minded player that rarely turned the ball over. He played the game to make those around him better, not unlike Billups.
Lenny Wilkens played point guard throughout the 60s and 70s. He was a pass-first point guard that could score when needed and played rigid defense. As a player, Billups erupted from the Lenny Wilkens mold. Wilkens would begin his coaching career as a player, starting in 1969. He would coach his final game in 2005, retiring as the NBA's all-time leader in wins by a head coach.
In today's game, Steve Kerr, Rick Carlisle, Nate McMillan, Doc Rivers, and Tyrone Lue all played guard in the NBA (to varying degrees of success) and are currently enjoying success as NBA coaches of playoff teams and/or former NBA champions. Steve Nash is also worth mentioning as he showed a great deal of promise as a coach this year. However, I deduct points for being gifted the most ridiculously talented set of three players in the same uniform the NBA has ever seen.
These are not all coincidences. This many former guards being great NBA coaches is no fluke. Many of these players garnered recognition as some of the wisest players of their era. Chauncey Billups falls smack in the middle of that Venn diagram. Billups was a smart, defensively sound point guard that could score when needed and made every player he laced up with better.
Coaching at any level is challenging to jump into with no experience. Whether coaching a youth football team or stepping into the dugout of an MLB contender, the pressure to do right by your players and the audience watching is immense. Coaching at the NBA level with no experience can be tricky. People can rarely pull it off. Even college coaches often fail when making the leap from the NCAA to the NBA.
Billups may have had the opportunity to jump straight into coaching in 2020, but he opted to work as an assistant under Tyron Lue in Los Angeles. Taking even one year to sit behind an experienced coach and learn how that aspect of the game works shows the maturity and intelligence that every NBA insider knows is there.
Steve Kerr got minimal experience on the sidelines. Most of his experience came from the front office. That experience was vital, and it's what can give teams confidence in hiring Billups, knowing that he opted to do the same.
Chauncey Billups retired from the NBA in 2017. He won the NBA Finals MVP award in 2004. Many of the current NBA players grew up watching Chauncey Billups define an era of defensive point guards. As an NBA coach, Billups will need more than just the respect of the people he played with and that knew him back then. More than anything, Billups will need the respect of this new generation of talent.
The NBA is in the age of Player Empowerment. If young stars decide their teams do not have their best interests in mind, they leave. Teams are more willing than ever to dish out young assets and the first-round draft picks to get stars on their rosters. If a coach cannot command his players' respect and even admiration, he won't last long in that organization. Billups passes this test with flying colors.
Players like Damian Lillard do not mention your name amongst their preferred coaching candidates for nothing. The Boston Celtics do not link themselves to you as a coaching candidate if you are not worthy of that position.
Billups is a Winner
Chauncey Billups knows what it takes to win an NBA championship. He knows how tight that window is and how if every detail is not looked after with a fine-tooth comb, it can all slip away.
Winning is absolutely everything in the NBA. Trying to do anything other than win long-term is the type of thing that got Donald Sterling the reputation as the worst owner in professional sports. Billups won't settle for anything less than championship aspirations as a coach. Steve Kerr turned down the storied New York Knicks franchise to coach the Golden State Warriors. Kerr wanted a team ready to win that very day. The drive to succeed Billups has will force him to do the same.
Steve Kerr continues to get mentioned in this article because he is the best comparison for what Billups can become. Should Billups choose the right team a la his counterpart in the Bay, we may be heading into a team's new era as long-term title contenders.
It is not easy to take someone who has just been handed a dream job and immediately tear them down. However, it is irresponsible as a writer/journalist not to have conversations that need discussing. Immediately upon Billups' hiring, his 1997 sexual assault allegations re-surfaced. When the brightest lights shine on a public figure, the darkest, oft-forgotten corners again see the light of day.
There was an excellent Sports Illustrated piece about the allegations written by Jack Winter. I highly suggest anyone interested in basketball or the Portland Trailblazers read it. The article goes into fairly graphic detail over the alleged account. The point being, Billups and a few other men were alleged to have raped a woman who had a rape kit done that came back showing various signs of rape.
Chauncey Billups will be a good, if not great, NBA head coach. That question is still seemingly up for debate. However, another question still up for debate is how long we as fans will continue to accept alleged rapists and confirmed abusers to hold these top positions in our sport. The NBA has done a lot to support movements like Black Lives Matter and to cut racism out of the sport. However, with Becky Hammon hopefully soon becoming the NBA's first head coach, men like Billups and Jason Kidd continue to get hired by organizations caring more about professional qualifications than personal ones.
As the writer of this piece, I must also take some blame. I wrote this piece excitedly wishing to see a team headed up by one of his era's most intelligent basketball players. I did not know the disturbing allegations levied against Billups. As a lover of basketball, it is on me to learn and understand these things. It is up to me as a fan not to let teams continually hire people who commit these types of crimes.
The Blazers narrowed their head coaching search down to two people: Becky Hammon and Chauncey Billups. A highly qualified man accused of rape that settled a civil suit out of court versus a possibly more qualified woman that I have yet to hear a credible bad thing about. This is where we still are as a society.
Chauncey Billups will be a good, possibly great NBA head coach. At some point, should that stop mattering? Should pieces like the one I wrote prior to learning of these allegations exist? As soon as I began writing this article, I became a part of the problem. Yet, it is up to me and everyone else that loves this sport to fix the problem. Maybe it did happen 24 years ago; that should not matter. Perhaps Derrick Rose should not possess the universal admiration he currently does. None of this changes without journalists and fans alike bringing attention to this fact.
There was a point in time where I was proud of this piece. It was my first ever editorial that I had published by a reputable site. The people at Sideline Sources have given me a platform, and the first thing I did was write something that, in retrospect, should have had a completely different tone. Basketball came first, but it shouldn't. We are people that love a game. We are not players and writers of a game, who happen to exist outside of it.
Chauncey Billups will be a good, possibly great NBA head coach. The time for this to not matter anymore is yet still ways away. The day that changes will be the greatest day in NBA history.