The Trail Blazers' coaching vacancy was one of just two across the entire league on June 4, when the team announced it had mutually agreed to part ways with Terry Stotts. Four additional openings have become available in the less than two weeks since, with more on the horizon as we get deeper and deeper into the playoffs.
How does the Portland job stack up to its growing competition? Here's where the Blazers' vacancy stands after the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards entered the coaching carousel on Wednesday.
6. Washington Wizards
Washington is capped out this summer, with little means of improving the roster before next season other than the mid-level exception. Owner Ted Leonsis hasn't exactly proven himself capable of leading a competent organization, either. Even if you're a believer in Russell Westbrook's late-season renaissance and the impact of his box-score dominance, he's a bigger health risk than ever and turns 33 in November.
The biggest issue for the Wizards? Bradley Beal, much as he wants to achieve Lillard's iconic local status in the nation's capital, has a player option on his contract for 2022-23, one he's almost certain to decline after his tenth year of service qualifies him for a larger maximum share of the salary cap.
5. Orlando Magic
The Magic's decade-long rebuild in wake of Dwight Howard's departure didn't quite go as planned, ruined by unrealistic expectations for internal improvement and deference to the status quo. Orlando's devastating spate of injuries in 2020-21 at least forced its end, though, management fully committing to a new chapter by trading away Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier at the deadline.
Impactful as Jonathan Isaac has been and promising as Markelle Fultz has looked at times, neither can be counted on as a foundational building block after their development was stunted by major injuries. At least they're locked into reasonable contracts for the foreseeable future, though, just like Orlando has team control on Wendell Carter Jr., RJ Hampton, Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony. Maybe the Magic's next coach can help turn Mo Bamba's tantalizing physical tools into some semblance of consistent on-court production.
The real carrot here for interested coaches? A stable of first-round picks – including a high-lottery selection come August that could net Orlando its long-awaited next franchise player – and the job security that accompanies low expectations in an overlooked market. If Orlando wasn't owned by the DeVos family, its blend of young talent, financial flexibility and resulting room for growth would help the Magic rank higher on this list.
4. Indiana Pacers
General manager Kevin Pritchard is among the most respected veteran decision-makers in the league. His frank admission of guilt about the hiring and firing of Nate Bjorkgren, Indiana's head coach for less than eight months, stands in stark contrast to the blame game played by Neil Olshey during his season-ending presser – a dynamic of which present and future coaching candidates no doubt took notice.
The Pacers' talent level isn't high enough to win the East, but not low enough for them to be bottom-dwellers, reasonable health provided. That makes Indiana a low-risk proposition for a veteran coach like Terry Stotts, who's already been rumored as a favorite to replace Bjorkgren.
It's not like the Pacers are stuck with the status quo core, either. Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and T.J. Warren are all highly tradable, and even Domantas Sabonis' contract isn't a cap-killer if the right situation presented itself.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
The three-year, $100 million extension C.J. McCollum signed in wake of the Blazers' surprising trip to the 2019 Western Conference Finals only kicks in next season. Unless he can sustain the career-best level of play he reached before going down with a broken foot in February, McCollum's contract is bound to be considered a net negative in a vacuum – and perhaps worse.
Trading McCollum this summer will be close to impossible for Portland if Olshey requires a return package the general public can get behind. Even a realistic deal that does little to up the Blazers' championship equity would go over better than letting Norman Powell walk in free agency, though. Capped-out Portland's only means of retaining Powell's salary slot is paying what he asks. Olshey will otherwise be limited to offering free agents the mid-level exception, about half of the near-$20 million salary Powell could command on the open market.
Paying up for Powell, of course, would even further cramp the Blazers' future spending options, almost surely putting them in annual reach of the luxury tax – a price Jody Allen may not be willing to pay as she reportedly considers selling the team.
Lillard's loyalty is real. If the Blazers make a pointed effort to surround him with players who better fit his strengths and weaknesses, it's hard to imagine Lillard asking out of Portland soon enough for a new coach to be scared off by his potential departure. But Olshey has gone out of his way to insist the Blazers' roster isn't the problem.
With leaked whispers of Portland's interest in offering Erik Spoelstra a dual role on the sidelines and in the front office, it's fair to wonder: How safe is Olshey's job? Just like working under him in general, that's another easily overlooked factor for the Blazers' candidates to consider. Should Portland make a move at the top of the front office food chain, Olshey's successor would surely rather bring in their own head coach than stick with whoever he chooses to replace Stotts.
Lillard makes the Blazers' gig more attractive than the normal head-coach opening all by himself. Absent his on-court brilliance and culture-setting leadership, though, there's not much in Portland for prospective coaches to feel confident in or get excited about.
2. New Orleans Pelicans
Stan Van Gundy's tenure in New Orleans was brief, but David Griffin should be indebted to him forever for helping Zion Williamson realize his destiny as a primary ball handler early. Williamson was a revelation once he took the keys for the Pelicans in 2020-21, living up to his pre-draft hype as an unstoppable force of power and athleticism around the rim while showing natural, burgeoning instincts as an all-around playmaker.
The jumper has a long way to go, obviously, and though Williamson took strides defensively as a sophomore, it's still unclear what his optimal role will be on that side of the ball against elite playoff competition. Ignore all that for now. Players like Williamson are a coach's meal ticket to not just immediate and future success on the floor, but personal longevity in the league at large.
Griffin's moves with New Orleans – most notably overspending for Steven Adams, a bad stylistic fit with Williamson on a completely different timeline – have been hit or miss, but he has a strong track record with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Prospective coaches know what they're getting with the Pelicans: The chance to mold a generational talent under a veteran front office honcho who's already proven capable of building a championship roster around a singular superstar.
That combination alone is enough to put New Orleans' opening toward or at the top of this list, even before accounting for the Pelicans' incumbent talent and numerous available pathways for a roster overhaul.
1. Boston Celtics
There's a real argument that Jayson Tatum, still just 23, is more likely to be a title team's offensive alpha dog than Williamson.
He won't ever be LeBron James or Luka Doncic, but his improvement as a pick-and-roll playmaker in 2020-21 was significant enough to believe that Tatum could eventually win a championship as a primary playmaker regardless – perhaps a la Kawhi Leonard with the Toronto Raptors. But Williamson? Just like we've seen from Giannis Antetokounmpo against the Brooklyn Nets and was made clear to LeBron James by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 Finals, even the rarest of physical specimens will struggle to create efficient offense against playoff defenses without a reliable jumper.
Irrespective of the height of Tatum's ceiling, his partnership with Jaylen Brown – at times Boston's best player this season – is what really sets the Celtics' job apart. Two-way wings are the most prized commodity in the NBA, and Boston boasts a pair of them locked up through 2023-24, when Tatum and Brown will still be in the early stages of their primes.
Kemba Walker's contract is close to an albatross, and Danny Ainge didn't fill the coffers with quality young depth before stepping aside, problematic for a team bound to be picking in the bottom of the first round for years to come. Ainge, remember, didn't exactly endear himself to the league with the ruthlessly business-first approach he took as Boston's head decision-maker.
Replacing him with Brad Stevens makes that dynamic moot, and the Celtics' next coach will no doubt be afforded the same sense of patience and collaboration Stevens was when he made the leap from Butler University in 2013.
Boston's vacancy is the best in the league. The mouth-watering intrigue of Williamson's future is the only factor making it somewhat close, and Portland's frankly, doesn't compare.