Blazers coaching search: Damian Lillard basically tells Portland to hire Jason Kidd — ‘[He’s] the guy I want’

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The Portland Trail Blazers and Terry Stotts, who served as Portland’s coach for nine seasons, agreed to part ways on Friday — which is to say the Blazers fired him after their first-round loss to the Nuggets. 

Now the attention turns to Stott’s replacement. A list of names has emerged that includes Chauncey Billups, Jeff Van Gundy, Mike D’Antoni and Juwan Howard, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Another name among potential candidates to watch is David Vanterpool, who served as a Blazers assistant from 2012-19. 

But it appears one name might have just moved to the top of the list: Jason Kidd. On Friday, before the Stotts news becoming official, Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported that Kidd would be a top target for the Blazers should they part ways with Stotts. Once that happened, Haynes dropped this bombshell from Damian Lillard:

From Haynes:

“Jason Kidd is the guy I want,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports on Friday night.

Lillard intends to have significant input on the next hire, sources said. … The 30-year-old superstar is fixated on competing for a championship and is expected to be more vocal with his requests moving forward, sources said.

Kidd, a Hall of Fame point guard, is a fellow Oakland native.

The two have a great relationship that goes back years. Lillard genuinely respects Kidd’s basketball acumen and knowledge of the game and believes he can help take his game and the team to the next level, sources said.

Shortly thereafter, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Lillard prefers Kidd because of his head-coaching experience and appreciates the connection they share as Oakland natives, but he also likes Billups as a candidate. Charania’s report indicates Portland is expected to choose between Kidd and Billups. 

Up next will be a new coach, and Lillard said it would be “ideal” if Stotts’ replacement has experience.

“I like J. Kidd and Chauncey,” Lillard said, referring to Lakers assistant Jason Kidd and Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups.

A source close to Lillard says he prefers Kidd because of his previous head coaching experience in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, and his background as an Oakland point guard. But Portland’s management is intrigued by Billups, the former point guard who was an NBA Finals MVP with Detroit. It is believed the Trail Blazers will ultimately decide between Kidd and Billups.

Kidd is currently the top Lakers assistant under Frank Vogel, and has received rave reviews for his contributions to the L.A. organization. He was previously a head coach for both the Nets and Bucks, becoming the first coach in history to lead two franchises to the playoffs in his first two years with the team. 

It didn’t end well in either Brooklyn or Milwaukee for Kidd, and there are, or were, legitimate questions about his philosophies. He gambled defensively and suffered for it. Giannis Antetokounmpo did not come to fruition until after Kidd left Milwaukee. But never mind all that now. With Lillard going on the record that Kidd is his guy, he is all but forcing the Blazers’ hand. 

Lillard has about as much leverage with his organization as any player in the NBA right now. He has shown supreme loyalty as superstars all over the league have played musical franchises chasing titles, signing long-term extensions with the Blazers and never once asking for a trade as the team has repeatedly fallen short in the postseason. It would be hard to imagine Portland GM Neil Olshey going against Lillard’s public wishes now. 

What’s strange is Lillard telling Haynes in no uncertain terms that he wants Kidd. But then also telling Charania that he likes Billups. I’m going with the Kidd endorsement. You don’t get much more definitive than “Jason Kidd is the guy I want.”

Though Lillard is contractually locked up with the Blazers through 2024, we’ve seen what it looks like when superstars decide they want out. Name one who hasn’t eventually gotten their way. Now, don’t expect Lillard to do that. It’s not his style. But in going public with his desire to play for Kidd, he is absolutely flexing his franchise-player muscles. It’s not a threat, technically. But it’s one hell of a power move. It will be very interesting to see if Portland has the guts to pick Billups, or anyone else, over Kidd after Lillard’s statement. 

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