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by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISOPHER ONSTOTT - New Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts plans to compete for the playoffs this season.Terry and Jan Stotts are spending some time at a vacation home on Lake Norman in North Carolina, not far from Charlotte.

“We planned it a long time ago, rented the house for the month of August,” says Terry Stotts, named last week as the Trail Blazers’ new coach. “We’re going to have to cut our time short, but we’ll have fun.”

The Stotts love to travel. In May, after the Dallas Mavericks were eliminated from the NBA playoffs, they spent two weeks in Italy. They own a vacation home in Sarasota, Fla., and in 1998 — after Terry had been let go as an assistant with the Seattle Supersonics — rented a house in Bend for three summer months.

“We loved it,” Stotts says. “The weather was beautiful. The golf was great. I did some biking. We did some hiking. It was one of my more enjoyable summers, even though I was out of a job.

“We have spent time in Colorado Springs and Park City, Utah. One of our best trips was driving up the East Coast from Boston to Maine. We love to rent a car, take off and check out new areas.”

The Stotts have no children. Their kids are a pair of Coton de Tulear dogs, “white and fluffy, like Havanese,” he says.

Soon, Stotts will have plenty of kids with which to work. The Blazers will be one of the youngest teams in the league during the 2012-13 season, and he will be expected to nurture them into a productive unit at some point not too far into the future. It will require some patience by owner Paul Allen and new general manager Neil Olshey.

“I don’t know if patience is the right word,” says Stotts, 54, who served as chief assistant to Rick Carlisle in Dallas the past four years, helping the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title. “We’re going to come out and compete. That’s what people want to see. We’re going to play hard and develop young talent. That’s going to be a priority with our roster.

“But I’ll say this: When you have players like LaMarcus (Aldridge) and Nicolas (Batum) and J.J. Hickson and Wes Matthews, and an excellent young point guard in Damian Lillard, that’s a solid core that is going to put you in position to win games. We are going to compete to try to make the playoffs.”

Stotts means next season.

That is going to be Herculean chore, given the competition in the Western Conference and the lack of experience on Portland’s roster.

Stotts’ coaching staff will be critical to the Blazers’ success. In addition to Kaleb Canales — the other finalist for the head job and the man who served there on an interim basis after Nate McMillan was fired last season — Stotts will hire four assistants.

“There’s a chance I’ll hire somebody this week,” he says. “We may announce them one at a time or as a group, I don’t know. All the assistants will be on the floor, working with players. That said, I’m going to have some experienced X’s and O’s guys to help with game plans. We’re going to have energy. Players can feel the energy of a coaching staff.”

George Karl says Stotts will have the right plan.

“Terry understands how the system works,” says Karl, the Denver coach with whom Stotts served as an assistant for a decade in Seattle and Milwaukee. “He’ll hire some player development guys and some guys who give him information and motivation. Then he’ll get on the court and touch the players in his way. There are a lot of things that will work well for him in Portland.”

Karl was a major influence on Stotts. So, too, was Carlisle. Then there was Frank Stotts, Terry’s late father, who coached high school ball in the Midwest and at the University of Guam during Terry’s formative years.

“When I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember going to practices of the Marshfield (Wisc.) Tigers,” he says. “I was an assistant ball boy. I wore a black blazer with a tiger patch on my chest. I remember taking a bus ride to Rhinelander, sitting in the front with my dad. Basketball has been my life.”

Frank Stotts was of a different makeup than his son.

“We’re both passionate about the game,” Terry says, “but my dad was a dynamic, fiery kind of coach. He wore his emotions on his sleeve.”

Stotts’ reputation is as a laid-back, players’ type of coach.

“That’s a bit of a misconception,” he qualifies. “I have my moments in practice, or in timeouts and halftime, where I get on the team, get on players. I pick my spots. You can’t be a tight (ass) all the time, or it loses its effectiveness. It’s about being even-tempered, and having a good perspective.”

The 6-8 Stotts was an all-Big Eight forward at Oklahoma who played five years professionally in Europe as well as three seasons with the Montana Golden Nuggets of the Continental Basketball Association, where he met up with Karl in the early 1980s.

“I brought Terry to Great Falls,” Karl says. “One night, we went to a Sizzler and talked basketball. Even in that first meeting, I knew his mind worked like a coach as much as a player.”

Stotts coached with Karl on some great teams in Seattle and some good ones in Milwaukee. Stotts then served stints as a head coach with Milwaukee and Atlanta (from 2002-07) and eventually wound up in Dallas with Carlisle.

The Bucks and Hawks were mediocre during Stotts’ time running the show, but it shouldn’t be an indictment of him as a head coach, Carlisle says.

“Neither of those were great situations for Terry in terms of the personnel available,” Carlisle says. “They were undersized and not physical in Milwaukee. Atlanta was a perennial lottery team at the time. All that stuff can be erased.”

Five years after his last head coaching job, Stotts is back at the controls.

“Guys don’t get second and third chances as often as they should,” Karl says. “Terry has done a great job of working hard and staying with the system and doing his job as an assistant coach. His experience, his knowledge, his class has always been at a high level. Now he gets a young team that could be damn good if things go the right way.

“I’m just happy for him. Portland interviewed a lot of guys, gathered a lot of information, and I can see why they would pick Terry. He has been with a lot of coaches who know how to put things together. That’s a big part of the NBA — learning how to plan your philosophy and co-exist with and motivate the team’s talent.”

Stotts isn’t the same man who took over the Hawks in 2002.

“There’s no question I’m a different coach,” he says. “I’ve learned some things being a head coach. The biggest thing is my last four years with Rick. I’d been with George for so long. He’s a fantastic coach, a Hall of Fame coach, but being with Rick gave me a different perspective. It broadened my view of how to approach the game, how to approach players.

“I’m older now. I’ve done a lot. l’ve seen a lot. I’ve learned a lot. Communicating with players is so vital in this league. I’ve changed my approach about that. I’m more comfortable as far as who I am and what kind of coach I am and what needs to be done after the experience with Rick and winning a championship. I’ve done a lot the last 10 years. I’ve grown in a lot of different ways.”

Carlisle believes that, too.

“Experience,” says Carlisle, beginning to name Stotts’ attributes. “A great overall feel for the game. Championship pedigree. He inherits a team that has some real similarities to our team in Dallas, because of Dirk (Nowitzki) and Aldridge. They’re two of the best-shooting big men we have in the league. A lot of the things we did with Dirk will translate to their situation very well.

“Terry has a good understanding not only of offense and defense but how they must jell together. You can be a pretty good defensive team in this league if that’s your only goal. But if you want to be a team that can defend and score and win games, there are some nuances of how you put that together and communicate that. He’s been there.”

Stotts has plans for Aldridge, though part of it is not to turn him into a 3-point shooter a la Nowitzki.

“Dirk has expanded his game over the past four years,” Stotts says. “LaMarcus can do the same thing. I don’t want him to become a 3-point shooter, but I like the idea of moving him around and swinging him to different positions.

“He is already a premier post player, especially on the left block, with his mid-range pick-and-pop game. I’d like to get him on the right block some, use him at the free-throw area like Dirk.”

Stotts admits he signed on with the Blazers in part to get another opportunity as a head coach.

“But honestly, the Portland franchise is one of the best in the league,” he says. “It has a great history. Paul Allen is one of the best owners. Neil and his vision for the direction of the franchise meshes with where I am in my career.

“And there’s a lot to be said for the fans. I know how passionate they are about the team and how much they love the Blazers. There’s not too much not to like about the situation.”

I’ve known Stotts for 20 years, since his time as an assistant in Seattle. I’ve always liked him as a person and respected him as a coach. I’m not sure if he’ll be a success in Portland, but I’ll be pulling for him. And I’ll be hoping Allen, Olshey and Blazer fans have a little patience with the product on the court. He’ll need it.

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