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Transcript: Nate McMillan On The BFT

  1. Written by: caseyholdahl

    Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan sat down with Mike Barrett, who was hosting The Bald Faced Truth on 95.5 The Game in place of John Canzano, on Monday to discuss his new assistant coaches, Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson, the statuses of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, Brandon Roy, the situation with Rudy Fernandez and working with Rich Cho. The following is a transcript of that conversation. You can also download the podcast from

    When you hire three new assistants it's kind of like a cabinet change. Talk about why you felt it was necessary, and maybe first off, why YOU felt it was necessary and nobody else.

    "Of course there have been some conversations about changing my staff. For me, I look at my staff and myself every year. This year, after changes over the last couple of years, lost Coach Bayno to college then he came back with me. In that time period we hired Joe Prunty and then I lost coach Maurice Lucas to an illness and this June I lost Coach Monty. Those guys are very important pieces or coaches (inaudible). I wanted to put together a staff that had balance and chemistry. The staff I was able to put together was Monty and Coach Demopolis and Coach Lucas and then Coach Bayno came on board. In the years I've lost a couple of those guys and I felt like this year, after losing Monty and knowing Coach Luke wouldn't come back, I needed to get that balance back and I needed to get that chemistry because it's important that the coaching staff have that amongst each other, so not only can they help me, but they can help the players.

    "There was a short list of guys that I wanted to look at. I talked to everybody about making the change, but this was my call. I didn't have to do anything, but I felt I needed to do something and I wanted to do something. After interviewing these guys and just listening to their excitement about wanting to be here and being a part of the organization, I felt it was the right fit and I felt I was getting back that balance, that chemistry."

    Experience obviously was a big part of these guys, with the exception of Buck. Bernie Bickerstaff, who was your first head coach, and Bob Ociepka. What do you think that gives you? What benefit can that bring?

    McMillan: "Can you go anywhere and get a job with a year of experience? You just can't do it. Everybody wants experience, they want a part of that, and so do I. Bernie has been through a lot. He's been an assistant who has won a world championship, he's been a head coach, he's been a general manager, he's coached against some of the best coaches in the league in Coach Popovich and Coach Jackson, Coach Sloan. He's coached in the 70's, the 80's and the 90's, so he has seen all different styles of basketball as far as up-tempo, half court games, different defenses, so he's seen all of that and he's coached against that. That can help. I want some of that.

    "When I talked to him about the team, I have an old school team here in the sense that we have a legit center, a true power forward, small forward, guards and a bench, where some of the teams that you see now, they don't have true power forwards. Their threes are fours, their fours are fives. We have the traditional type of team. If you look at the teams that were in the Finals, those are the type teams that can win big. Coach Bickerstaff is used to coaching those types of guys. Buck Williams was that type of player. He was a true power forward who played with a true center. That style that they've played in, they've coached, I want them to bring that knowledge to the staff and let's put together some changes if we can make some changes to put us in a position to get to that next level. That is my goal, is to certainly get out of the first round and I feel with this staff and our players being healthy, we've got a good shot at doing that."

    As you've said, you're not the youngest team in the league anymore and it's not all about player development, so maybe that's one of the reasons for the changes, but you still have Bill Bayno and Kaleb Canales, two very good developmental coaches and very good basketball minds. You had to be happy with what you saw from Kaleb at the Summer League. That was not only a great opportunity for him, but we watched the games and we were saying one of the main reasons that team was having success in Vegas is they were playing defense and not a lot of teams play D in Vegas in the Summer League but he had those guys playing hard and he was impressive.

    McMillan: "He was great. He really was. I remember my first time coaching in the summer league, how nervous I was. He was nervous for the first game and I was nervous for him. I just said a few words to the players. During the summer I give the team to the coaches and I'll allow those guys to run, really, their system. I try to look at what they do. They will do some of the things we do during the regular season, but for the most part, it's their team. I try to take some of the things I like and we'll add it once camp starts, but Kaleb did a great job. I thought he had the guys prepared; they looked like they were having fun. Jeff, Dante, Armon, Luke, Patty, all those guys did a good job bring energy every night. I think the one game that we lost they didn't have a day off. We had a scrimmage game the day before that -- we played Washington -- and just seemed like they had heavy legs. Other than that game I thought they played great basketball."

    What were your thoughts on Armon Johnson and Luke Babbitt, in particular? Patty, you knew a little bit in what you had with Patty, but Armon Johnson maybe a little more impressive than I expected, at least his ability to get inside. He's got an NBA-ready body. Babbitt got better at the week went on and had his best game, it was the last game obviously, looked like he kind of got used to that NBA line after a little while.

    McMillan: "You draft players, it's hard for the coaches to get a read on guys watching film and meeting them once and taking then through a workout where you're playing one-on-one or two-on-two or three-on-three. I felt like they had talent. I really trust Mike (Born) and Chad (Buchanan), those guys when they talk about what we need and drafting the players, but I was really surprised and happy with what I saw, with all of our guys. I thought Luke showed that he can be a threat offensively. Of course defensively he's going to have to get stronger, he's going to have to grow into his body, but offensively I would like for him to be even more aggressive than we saw during the Summer League. The last game he had 22 points and was really looking to shoot the ball, but very unselfish kid, can be explosive, can shoot the ball, has range, can put it on the floor, can do a lot of things. I think he has a pretty good basketball IQ.

    "Armon was really good. Again, watching film it was hard to get a feel for him, but I thought he made great decisions in the fastbreak. Defensively he could guard ones as well as twos. We matched him up against (John) Wall in the scrimmage and I just liked that he was looking so forward to that challenge. It was a good matchup to see. I was happy with our draft picks."

    Camp will be here before you know it. Update us on a couple of things. I've talked to Joel Przybilla; he said he's running now, so he's getting there. Greg Oden, we get a lot of texts on Greg Oden. How's he doing? How's Greg coming along? What are you hearing right now?

    McMillan: "He's doing good. He's right on schedule as far as where Jay wants his to be and our doctors want him to be. He's running a little bit. We will start in August Greg playing some three-on-three, some drill work and we will slowly work him into five-on-five in September. He should be right on schedule and ready to go for training camp. Everything is fine there."

    Brandon Roy has been at the practice facility a lot this summer. Last summer he kind of had the philosophy and he talked about it that he wanted to rest his body a little bit. We all know Andre Miller takes that philosophy in the offseason. Any point this summer have you had to walk in and tell Brandon to slow down a little bit?

    McMillan: "As I told our guys, I'm taking a different approach this summer. Normally I've been hands-on with our guys. Of course I've talked to them a few times, but I think they're now at a place where they have to be accountable for themselves. They know where we are and what he need to do. Brandon will set up the runs this year. Normally I've been involved in that as far as when guys are coming back. I think these guys need to be accountable for that. Brandon has been in the gym all summer. He looks great. Brandon and Greg, I've talked to them over the last few years about weight and I think they now know that light is better.

    "They have to go through that, where they're trying to figure out what's best for their bodies. One year, Brandon wanted to bulk up because he was taking a lot of hits. He didn't like that. I think now he realizes that light is better. Greg came in wanting to be just a monster. I was like 'You already a monster. You don't have to get any bigger.' Now he's realizing that light is better. When you're playing a 90-game schedule, carrying around ten extra pounds makes a difference. Brandon -- I saw him back in June -- he looked like he was 15 years old. He looks great."

    Last question. The Rudy situation we all know has been talked about this summer. He came out against today. The one interesting quote that he had today on a Spanish website was he said I would love to get to a team where I could be in a situation like I was in my first year with the Trail Blazers. Was it that different last year than the first year, and what are your thoughts on Rudy and the difficulty of maybe finding a position or role with the team that would make him happy?

    McMillan: "It was different for him, and for us, last year. Rudy, when he first came onboard, of course he played with Sergio (Rodriguez) who he was familiar with. That combination was pretty good. At that time I could cut into Sergio's minutes and get Rudy more minutes doing that, but when I did that, Sergio got upset and left. He didn't like his role.

    "Last year we had a ton of guards, and we had good guards. To start off the year we're starting off with Blake, Brandon, Miller and Rudy. You've got four guards and you don't have the minutes that you had with that young guard that you could cut into their minutes, so the roles certainly changed."

    Then he had the back trouble and the back surgery.

    McMillan: "Yeah, and then Bayless came onboard. Bayless and Rudy, we tried that combination. Bayless is not Sergio. Bayless is more of a scoring guard, so the rhythm between the two was not there on the floor, so I certainly understand what Rudy is feeling and what he is thinking. Rudy was Brandon Roy in his country, he was an all-star and now he's playing a backup role with limited minutes. I'm sure that can be frustrating, but he's a talent player. We're going to try and put him in the best position to be productive.

    "All the players had to sacrifice last year. Bayless was third guard. He wasn't even playing at the start of the season, so these are things that teams have to deal with every year: playing time and roles. What we want to try to do is balance the roster. We've seen these guys, when they get that opportunity to play, which they're capable of doing, but when you have so many..."

    And there's a guy down the hall on the phone who maybe will try to do something about that in Rich Cho. You're involvement with Rich, I know you go way back with Rich. Going though the strange change of last year and seeing Kevin and Tom and that regime go and now Rich Cho, a guy you know and are familiar with, how has that been so far for you?

    McMillan: "It's been good. When I was in Seattle, Rich was the third guy. It was Wally Walker and Rick Sund and Rich was a young guy trying to make that transition and just learning. I recall at that time that a deal that was a pretty big deal that was made, I was told that a lot of those guys didn't want to do the deal and Rich was the guy who came up with it, presented it and got it done. I've heard over the years that he's just been a guy that a lot of teams have been looking at. When they made that transition to Oklahoma City, I think Rich is one of the only people who was left from the Seattle organization and I think there was a reason for that. They loved what he did, they wanted to keep him onboard, they felt he was certainly someone that could help their organization and we were lucky enough to get him to come onboard with us. I was just with Kevin Durant and Westbrook, Green all those guys, they loved him. I look forward to working with him."

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