Nate McMillan Moves On

Like Julius Hodge, Nate McMillan is somewhat of a throw-back…but, a different style of throwback than Hodge. Always poised and professional, McMillan has always been steady and consistent and has been one of my 5 Favorite Wolfpackers of all-time since his days in Raleigh in the mid-1980s.

McMillan’s entire NBA career (playing and coaching) has been spent with the Seattle Supersonics. He has been such a fixture in the Seattle that his number is retired and his nickname is “Mr. Sonic”.

Well, Mr. Sonic has moved on and was announced yesterday as the new coach of the Portland Trailblazers. (Local coverage in The Oregonian

Even before Nate went to Seattle, I always liked the Sonics. My first memories of NBA Basketball were the classic Championship battles in the late 1970s between the Sonics and the Washington Bullets. Once Nate got to Seattle, I had more reason to keep the franchise on my radar.

By contrast, I’ve never been a big Portland fan. If you look deep at the Trailblazer franchise, then you will see once of the most consistent in the last 30 years of pro sports. But, that consistency never translated into much national appeal or championships other than the Bill Walton-led 1977 Championship that is one of the NBA’s most classic.

The Trailblazers are rebuilding, and they think that Nate is the perfect man to mold their young talent. They believe this so deeply that they have made him the second highest paid coach in the NBA by paying him $7 million a year for 5 years.

Mr. Sonic Moves On
Some folks who initially scratched their heads how “Mr. Sonic” could pass up $4 to $5 million per year to leave the only franchise that he has ever known are using the simple and cynical route of “money”. That explanation is over simplified and is just another example how too many people are willing to offer an opinion despite their lack of knowledge and education on a topic. It is not like this move is a surprise. SFN even had a little blurb a couple of months ago.

Forget the ‘obvious’ the money. If you followed the Seattle-based coverage, then you would see that money is not being cited by those closest to the situation – the overall theme is McMillan craving for a new challenge was enhanced by management’s disengaged focus and treatment of him. The coverage from Seattle is supportive of Nate, saying that “he deserves” his time in the sun.

The idea isn’t too hard to imagine when you consider the way that the Sonics treated Nate this season…the season that they thought was going to be his last because of the franchise’s choice, not Nate’s. Marc Stein commented, “Schultz (in Seattle) is the guy who allowed McMillan to start last season as a lame duck thinking he was soon to be fired. The guy who gave no hint of extending McMillan’s contract when the Sonics stunned the basketball world by starting 17-3. ”

Charles Barkley said, “”Obviously Seattle just dropped the ball. They should have signed Nate midway through the season. They just drug their feet and he got a better deal from Portland.”

McMillan is receiving the highest praise from a patron saint in Portland — Dr. Jack Ramsay. In that same ‘article’ and a different author, we see more insight into how this year affected Nate’s relationship with the Sonics:

“Truth is, Mr. Sonic, as McMillan has been called after a 19-year playing/coaching career in Seattle, didn’t feel much like the franchise namesake last season. A bit alienated from Sonics’ management, McMillan coached his finest season with a chip on his shoulder.

It wasn’t just that the Sonics refused to give him a contract extension heading into last season, or that they failed to approach him in December after he led the club to a surprisingly hot start. Those were just a few of the reasons McMillan felt he did not have the full support of Seattle’s management.

After leading Seattle to a 45-37 mark two years ago — a notable accomplishment with a limited roster in the Western Conference — McMillan felt like management began dictating how he should coach the team. It wanted to run and play fast. McMillan was on board with that, but with one caveat. He wanted management to understand that the Sonics’ young roster would take time to adjust to the style and take lumps while in the learning process. Management said it understood.

But once the inevitable lumps came (the Sonics were 77-87 from 2002-2004), McMillan thought he was left alone to explain what was wrong. He felt there was no vote of confidence from on high, that management was distancing itself from its coach and his struggles. McMillan also grew weary of hints — whether perceived or real — about whom he should be playing.”

Not a bad position to be in when you can “grow weary” and move on to become the second highest basketball coach in the world.