The Portland Trail Blazers appear to have found their next coach—but that’s hardly quelled the debate around the team’s future.
Several top NBA reporters said Friday that the Blazers were on the verge of hiring Chauncey Billups—a five-time NBA All-Star and Finals MVP, who most recently served as assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers—to succeed Terry Stotts as the team’s head coach. The news was met with a swift backlash on social media, stemming from a 1997 rape allegation against Billups that resurfaced earlier in the month after he emerged as the front-runner for the job.
Most of the criticism for the hire fell to general manager Neil Olshey. But some fans also called out Damian Lillard, who publicly named Billups as one of his preferred choices to fill the coaching vacancy, along with Jason Kidd, another former player with a checkered past.
“This is on Dame IMO,” wrote one Twitter user. “They were always going to hire exactly who he wanted and he wanted Billups or Kidd.”
In response to this social-media allegation, Lillard tweeted this morning that he was unaware of the allegations against both Billups and Kidd before endorsing them for the coaching, and that he does not “support [t]hose things.” He also appeared to downplay his role in influencing the decision.
“I was asked what coaches I like of the names I ‘heard’ and I named them,” he wrote. “Sorry I wasn’t aware of their history I didn’t read the news when I was 7/8yrs old.”
When another Twitter user questioned how Lillard could only now be learning of the rape accusation, Lillard responded, “I said what I said family.”
The Blazers parted ways with Terry Stotts, their coach of nine years, on June 4, shortly after the team was eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Hours later, several outlets quoted Lillard as preferring either Kidd or Billups as his next coach. Kidd, who pleaded guilty to hitting his wife in 2001, removed himself from contention a day later. He’s since been hired to coach the Dallas Mavericks.
In the proceeding weeks, several names have been linked to the Blazers’ coaching vacancy, including Mike D’Antoni. Last week, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was reported to be a finalist for the job—making her the first woman to ever get that far in the hiring process in the NBA.
It’s unclear if Billups has officially accepted the position yet, or if Lillard’s comments will change the team’s direction.