Chauncey Billups' introductory press conference as head coach of the Trail Blazers wasn't really about basketball, and rightfully so. But amid Portland's bungled response to questions about allegations of sexual assault against Billups and the internal investigation that corroborated his denials of wrongdoing, there were still kernels of evidence about what the Blazers might look like playing under a new coach for the first time in nearly a decade.
Below are the biggest basketball takeaways from Billups' first public appearance as Portland's head coach.
Billups Believes in the Existing Roster—to an Extent
There was rampant speculation that the Blazers would undergo a significant roster upheaval this summer even before Damian Lillard cast new doubt on his longtime pledge to retire in Rip City. Neil Olshey on Tuesday made sure to allow for the possibility of changes that could vault Portland to a new plane of contention next season and beyond, recalling recent comments he made to Lillard about cajoling the front office to seek improvement via trades and free agency.
It was a far cry from Olshey's season-ending presser, when he not only refused to take responsibility for limitations of the Blazers' roster, but also suggested Portland's next coach would have to make do with largely incumbent personnel.
As refreshing as it was for Olshey to own some of the Blazers' consistent failure to compete at the league's highest level, he still stopped short of suggesting the major changes that so many deem necessary are a realistic possibility. Why? Perhaps because Portland would be dealing from an even greater position of weakness if he more intentionally telegraphed earth-shaking moves like a C.J. McCollum trade.
But Billups' apparent belief in the Blazers' roster status quo no doubt makes Olshey more comfortable with it, too.
"I believe we can [improve]," Billups said when asked about Portland's chances to get better without a roster overhaul. "I do, I do, I really think highly of the roster."
At least Billups seems to be feeling the pressure that Lillard's reported frustration puts on Portland to win bigger, though. He's just leaving the particulars of that on-paper improvement to Olshey and the front office.
"I'm sure Neil will be working his behind off; everybody wants to win here," Billups said.
"I'm excited about where we are," he continued. "Obviously, a lot of those questions [about the roster], that's Neil's responsibility. But I'm excited as heck about what we have right now."
The Blazers Will Prioritize Movement Offensively
Terry Stotts was subject to widespread criticism about Portland's lack of movement and versatility on offense during his lengthy career in Rip City. The Blazers routinely ranked near the top of the league in pick-and-roll frequency and toward the bottom in overall passes and assist percentage under Stotts, an indicator how much they relied on the playmaking exploits of Damian Lillard and, to a lesser extent, C.J. McCollum.
Unless McCollum is dealt before 2021-22 tips off, expect Portland to continue milking ball screens and dribble hand-offs with each of their star guards to initiate offense. But where the Blazers regularly bogged down after running an initial action or making one extra pass, Billups wants them to take advantage of a scrambling defense by getting the ball to multiple sides of the floor on the same possession, playing in flow and, ultimately, targeting "great" shots instead of settling for "good" ones.
"Obviously, like we said, offensively this team was unbelievable," Billups said. "I think we can even be better offensively with more ball movement, different schemes, different plays, executing a little bit better. Playing on both sides of the floor a little bit more, and not having to have Dame and C.J. bail you out with those shots they can make all the time. Having some more continuity—not only ball movement, but player movement."
The LA Clippers—with whom Billups is a rookie assistant—are averaging 48.8 drives per game during their ongoing playoff run, per NBA.com/stats, better than any other team that advanced past the first round. They have more secondary and tertiary ball-handling talent than Portland, but many of those attacks have sprung from kickouts and swing-swing situations that follow an initial crease of the paint from one side of the court to the other.
Portland ranked dead last in drives during both the regular season and postseason in 2020-21. It would be a supreme disappointment if that proved the case during Billups' debut season.
Improvement Defensively Through 'Accountability'
The variable defensive schemes that have helped the Clippers survive deep into the Western Conference Finals won't be available to Billups in Portland, even if some unexpected roster changes come.
In Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marcus Morris and Nicolas Batum, LA boasts an envoy of like-sized defenders affording versatility on that end of the floor the vast majority of teams lack. Hyper-active point-of-attack defense provided by Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac's rock-solid presence on the backline means Ty Lue can mix and match strategies and lineup configurations as he deems fit—not just game-to-game in a playoff series, but possession-by-possession in real-time.
Billups won't have that luxury with the Blazers, but could at least try and replicate it on a more specific and situational scale by unleashing Derrick Jones Jr. and Nassir Little, both of whom were out of Stotts' rotation in the first round of the playoffs.
"And then defensively, I think we can get a lot better, too, with the guys that we currently have," Billups said. "We got some versatile guys on our team."
Accountability isn't just what looms largest to Billups' coaching and leadership philosophies overall, but his approach to defense as well.
For Portland to reach a defensive ceiling that realistically tops out as above-average, Billups believes a cultural commitment to that end of the floor is necessary.
"I think on the defensive end is where we take the next step, just having a defensive mindset, defensive mentality," he said. "Just to compete every single day, and to be physical and to communicate, things like that. You can have different schemes and principles but at the end of the day if you don't compete and invest on that side of the ball, you're probably gonna underachieve there."
Billups won't just be relying on he and his staff to implement that mentality, either. Rest assured that Lillard's dreadful defensive performance in his otherwise epic Game 5 against Denver, for instance, won't be shrugged off as a consequence of his outsized offensive load.
"It starts, obviously, with our best players being serious about it," Billups said. "You got guys that are winners: Dame and C.J. and Nurk, these guys are winners, so I don't think there will be any issue with how we get better."