In His First Year As Head Coach, Billups Looks To 'Put An Address On' Accountability
To state what is obvious to anyone who has paid attention to the NBA as of late, if the Trail Blazers are ever going to compete for a championship, they will have to be a much improved outfit on the defensive end. While they’ve been able to derive a remarkable amount of success, especially during the regular season, by having an elite offense led by the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, their inability, especially in the last two seasons, to play even average defense has scuttled any chance of reaching their ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship. In a league with 30 teams, it’s simply not possible to compete at the highest level with the 29th ranked defense.
So when Chauncey Billups signed on as the 15th head coach in the history of the franchise, he knew the main charge in his first season would be to markedly improve Portland’s play on the defensive end. A full year with Norman Powell in the lineup and the additions of Larry Nance Jr. and Cody Zeller will help from a personnel perspective, but with the core of the roster largely unchanged, any significant uptick on the defense end will have to come by way of internal improvement.
While Billups' approach to defense will be different than his predecessors, one of the ways Billups thinks the Trail Blazers can become a better defensive team outside of scheme is by holding players accountable. But what exactly does that mean? In an NBA that is often referred to as a “players league,” how does a coach, even one who won a championship during the course of a successful playing career, unlock the potential of a team that has struggled to slow even the teams only casually interested in winning?
Here’s what Billups had to say about holding players accountable, and what some of his new players thought about what that might mean for them...
Chauncey Billups: “To me, accountability is when something is out of place and something isn’t going right, we have to identify what it is and then, as I would call it, put an address on it. And here’s what I mean by that. I’ve played for a lot of coaches that, in team meetings or at halftime, after the game, whatever, would say ‘You know what, we’ve got to do a better job of stopping the basketball, we’ve got to guard better.’ Well, in front of the team, I’m going to put an address on that. So it’s ‘Chauncey, you’ve got to do a better job of containing the basketball.’ Ben or Rip or whoever I played with, you’ve got to put an address on that.
“And I think it does two things. One, it let’s that guy understand and know that he has to be better. And two, it puts everybody else on notice. Nobody wants that, nobody wants to be the star of the tape the next day because you’ve blown five coverages. But it’s a respectful way to do everything and at the end of the day, it’s just coaching. And the best coaches that I’ve ever played for coached that way, from Little League on to pros.
“Most people think that you can’t do that with these guys and I disagree. There’s a right way to do everything and everything I do with be with respect. I’m never going to disrespect a guy, I don’t operate that way. That’s what I mean when you hold a guy accountable. And that’s not just defensively, that’s offensively as well, that’s just period. If you want to be a great teammate, a great player, you have to accept some coaching.”
Damian Lillard: “Accountability is when he has something to say or if I’m out of line on something or if I’m not doing something that I’m supposed to be doing, him being able to challenge me on that or call me out on that. And I’ve never had an issue accepting that. When I was in elementary school, middle school, high school, college or the NBA I’ve never had an issue with accountability.
“If something ever crossed my desk or I was ever challenged or called out on something, if I felt like I had something to say about it, then I’ll say it. But if I feel like I’m wrong, I’ll say I’m wrong. If I feel like I wasn’t good enough at something, I’ll say I wasn’t good enough. But I’ve never had an issue with accountability so if that’s something that’s going to be a big part of our team or a big part of what our staff is going to bring, then it’s not alarming to me. I welcome it, I always have. I think that’s a good thing for our team.”
CJ McCollum: “I’m comfortable with any style of coaching based on how I was raised in my household. We don’t really hold punches so I’m not afraid to be critiqued, I’m not afraid to be challenged and Chauncey understands that. I’ve known Chauncey for a while and I told him the same thing I told the rest of the staff: challenge me. You can use be as an example, I won’t be offended. I do my job, I take my job very seriously, I know there’s ways I can improve my job all the way around. So I look forward to the accountability, I look forward to what comes with being a high profile player who is highly paid and is expected to produce.”
Larry Nance Jr.: “As a whole, players know. When we’re on the court and you get beat, you know. But there’s also a certain level of care that has to come with a good defensive team. Whether you know you got beat or whether you know you need help, you have to care. You have to try to be better and to try to guard your yard, or whatever they say.
“So as a defensive-minded player myself, I look forward to it. If I mess up, hold me accountable, let me know ‘Hey Larry, we put you on DeMar DeRozan, we put you on Jason Tatum for a reason. We put you on Kawhi (Leonard) or LeBron (James) for a reason, stick with ‘em, don’t let ‘em have that.’ And I love that, I invite that challenge.
“That’s the defensive mindset we all kind of have to adopt and I think that’s what Chauncey is going for going forward is the accountability of ‘You got beat, fix it. But when you get beat or if you get beat, we’re all here to help you. But you should never be getting beat. Individually, you should never be getting beat, but just in case, we’ve all got your back.’ I think that should be the sum of our defense.”