The Portland Trail Blazers have an angry fan base and an unhappy superstar.
The fallout from the Blazers’ decision to hire Chauncey Billups as their next head coach despite accusations that he was involved in a sexual assault allegation in 1997 has ramifications on the franchise’s future.
Despite the objections of Blazers fans who expressed their opposition to the Billups hire on social media and elsewhere, Portland announced the hiring in an 8:30 p.m. PT email on Sunday.
The Blazers did not appear moved by fan sentiment.
“Chauncey is a proven leader with an elite basketball IQ that has won everywhere he has been,” Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said in a statement. “He is prepared for the challenge of developing the Championship habits and strategic approach we need to achieve the expectations and goals for our franchise.”
In a sentence that was not attributed to anyone, the Blazers news release said, “The Trail Blazers conducted a thorough and equitable search and Billups is the right choice to lead the organization to the playoffs and beyond.”
The hire has left Damian Lillard frustrated and in a position where he is defending himself on Twitter. Lillard gave initial support for Billups as a candidate but as outcry grew louder amid the pending hire and some fans blamed Lillard for supporting Billups, Lillard tweeted, “Really? I was asked what coaches I like of the names I “heard” and I named them. Sorry I wasn’t aware of their history. I didn’t read the news when I was 7/8yrs old. I don’t support Those things … but if this is the route y’all wanna come at me… say less.”
Lillard’s frustration had been growing before the Billups hired and since the end of the Blazers’ season when they lost to Denver in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about Lillard’s situation.
This is the Blazers’ second consecutive first-round exit after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2019. Of Portland’s eight consecutive playoff appearances, it lost in the first round five times.
Lillard has long professed a commitment to Portland. In 2019, he signed a four-year, $176 million extension. The first year of that extension starts in 2021-22, and Lillard has a player option following the third year of the deal and can become a free agent in 2025.
“I think we’ve built something special,” Lillard said after signing the deal. “It’s really genuine. The environment we’ve created is something I’ve been a part of and something I want to continue to be a part of.”
But in the NBA, circumstances change quickly. Lillard wants to compete for a championship and is beginning to wonder if that can happen with the Blazers.