It’s about time someone says it: Nate McMillan deserves to be the Coach of the Decade in the NBA.
Year after year, starting in the 2000 campaign as the interim head coach of the Seattle Supersonics, McMillan has done more with the talent on his teams than any other coach over the past ten years.
Yes, he has coached star players like Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and Brandon Roy but he has lacked the overall team talent and health that most playoff teams enjoy. Last year, for instance, the injury riddled Trail Blazers fought their way to the playoffs despite being the second most injured team in the entire league, only behind Golden State.
This is not a rare feat McMillan over his eleven year span as a head coach. After taking over for Paul Westphal fifteen games into the season in 2000, McMillan, only three years removed from playing for the Sonics, narrowly missed taking Seattle to the playoffs. The next season, his first full season as a head coach, he led the team to the playoffs where they fell to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
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The next season, the Sonics traded away fan favorite and team leader Gary Payton in exchange for younger talent in Ray Allen.
Amongst the turmoil of an identity change through the transition years from the Gary Payton days of the Seattle Supersonics to the new era of Ray Allen in the Emerald City, McMillan’s Sonics missed the playoffs two years in a row.
The next season, however, in 2005, the team found its identity. The Sonics won the Pacific Division with Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and a supporting cast of players that is essentially unknown to most basketball fans.
For years in the quiet corner of the Pacific Northwest, Nate McMillan has been coaching average talent into playoff contending teams by playing the game the way it was meant to be played. Good old fashioned team ball. He preaches ball movement, taking open shots, sound defense, controlling the pace and most rare in the NBA, putting the team first. On McMillan’s team’s, everyone has a role and when they play with the selfless style that McMillan exemplified in his professional career, the team wins.
McMillan has taken the cool patience he used in his playing days and formulated that into his coaching. It shows in the discipline his teams play with. The best example is his resurrection of the Portland Trail Blazers.
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When he arrived to Portland for the 2005-06 season, he was faced with the task of turning an entire franchise around. The season before his arrival the team was near the bottom of the league with a 27-55 record. The team’s reputation off the court was just as bad.
In his first season as coach Portland was a dismal 21-61. McMillan began reshaping his team’s image by removing the harmful players and bringing in quality guys that knew how to play fundamental team basketball. Almost every year since he has steadily improved the team’s record to the point where they are now expected to be a playoff team year after year.
McMillan has faced more adversity regarding team relations and personnel than any other coach in the NBA. He did not get a contract extension with his lifetime Sonics team after leading them to a Division title and the best season record since George Karl. He has built a program up from a bottom of the league joke (Jail Blazers) into a perennial playoff team. His players and number one overall draft pick (Greg Oden) have not had a healthy season in the past three years yet they have put up 40 win seasons in four straight years.
McMillan knows how to bring the right players into his system to put the team in the best position to win which is something that can be admired throughout the league. He does not have the convenient talent overload or all-star lineup of the top teams like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Miami, Orlando, Boston, Chicago, New York and Oklahoma City. The obvious key to the success of the Trail Blazers is how well they are coached.
McMillan has only had four seasons with less than 40 wins and one of those was not even a full season of coaching.
The ability of Nate the Great may only go recognized in the unrecognized realm of the Pacific Northwest. Without strong media presence in the region it is easy to see why McMillan would go over looked. However, if they look closely, any NBA fan can see that McMillan does more with the players he is given than any other coach in the league. His ability to win games and create a successful franchise goes to show what kind of coach he is.
It is safe to say that McMillan should be regarded as one of, if not, the most talented coach in the NBA.