mikebarrett

Dec 12

The Rock

By mikebarrett
So, there we were on the first day of training camp.  Or, as you've probably heard it nicknamed by now, Black Friday.

The Trail Blazers had just gotten the word that LaMarcus Aldridge would undergo a procedure on his heart to treat Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and would miss at least a week.  They were already dealing with the news that Greg Oden had suffered yet another setback in his battle with his surgically-repaired knees.  Then came the surprising word that Brandon Roy was going to seek a medical retirement from the NBA.

As we sat there, on the first day, trying to figure out what all of this meant, and what it would mean to this franchise to have to deal with yet another batch of disappointing news, my eyes drifted to one of the side baskets along the wall.  There stood Nate McMillan, arms folded, staring straight ahead at no one in particular.  After several moments, he lifted his whistle to his mouth, bit on it for a second, and then let it drop back to his chest.

The members of the media were beginning to surround him, flipping on lights atop TV cameras and starting to extend microphones.  After briefly joking that he'd love to come into a training camp and not have to talk about who is missing and discussing injuries, he went to work talking about how his team was positive, optimistic, and ready for training camp.

I then started thinking about all that he's dealt with since being named the head coach of this team back on July 7, 2005.  The first few years, which seem so long ago, were much easier.  Expectations were low, as they usually are during a building process.  He'd never admit that, however.  His message was the same then as it is now.  The goal is also still the same.

So much has happened since then.  There has been a lot of good, including three-straight playoff appearances.  But, there is no doubt that the injuries, what-ifs, and unfilled potential have started to define McMillan's reign in Portland.  It's a shame, because that part isn't his fault.

The amazing thing, at least in my mind, is that this has been an incredibly enjoyable era of Blazer basketball despite all of the bad luck.  It's amazing to me that this team has had the success that it's had, given all that has happened.  Maybe that's why we pull for them the way we do, and why we've learned not to take anything for granted (at least I hope we've learned that).

The reason we've been able to connect with this team they way we have in the last few years is that we're able to identify with them.  Nothing has come easy.  And, it hasn't been fair.  But, you'll never hear McMillan say that.  With him, it's never about him.

I heard it said recently that when you never make it about yourself, you can lead others to great things.  Nate has done that.  Even if the great things fall short of what you think they could have been.  I had an NBA agent say to me, after yet another player went down last season, "this has to have a happy ending at some point, doesn't it?" 

I'd love to say that it's that very thing that drives McMillan.  But, I don't think that's the case.  I envy him because he's honestly able to put aside all the distractions and simply work his way through a situation without ever allowing his players to feel sorry for themselves. 

He's steady, he's consistent, and the absolute rock of this franchise.  He has never cracked, and his team has never cracked.  Oh, and there has been so much opportunity to completely fall apart and give up.  

As I had a national writer tell me the other day, no one could have done what he has done with this team the last three-plus years.  I'm not sure focused Blazer fans have any idea how admired McMillan's work is around the rest of the NBA world.  That's not a criticism of Portland's fans, that's just the way it is sometimes.

I've got this concern that perhaps McMillan is getting worn down by all the bad news, or that somehow the constant theme of injured players will begin to define him.  My worry is insignificant, obviously, and the best treatment for that is usually a simple conversation with Nate.  He never seems shaken, or disheartened.

Don't you love those people who somehow make you become the best version of yourself?  It's certainly a gift, and it's a quality we find consistently in great leaders.  It's the ability adapt, look forward, and carry those around you with you.

He'll be there tomorrow, and the next day, searching for ways to inspire and succeed, never worrying about what's fair and what isn't.  That part he doesn't control.

Will the payoff ever come for McMillan?  Actually, it already has.  Just ask him.    
  

17 Comments

  1. Thanks for the blog, Mike! I've criticized Nate in the past about his rigid substitution patterns but it's certainly true that he has had a positive effect on the team in general.

    I love the acquisition of Kurt Thomas! Watching him play over the past few years, I've wondered why his type of player never seemed to fall our way. We had Juwan Howard but let him get away. I think Thomas is a perfect fit for the Blazers and he should get plenty of minutes given his mid-range shooting ability, his 6 boards per 24 minutes, and his defensive skills.

    How about Brandon Roy as an assistant coach? He has great respect from the players and could be an excellent coach someday, if that's in his long range plans.
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 12/13/2011 1:20 AM
  2. More on Thomas -- I read today that he signed for the veteran minimum. That's a sign of a real team-oriented player. He wants to play, he wants to win, and I think he can be a big piece of what Nate wants to do this season. The Blazers can be a dangerous team this year.
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 12/13/2011 1:30 AM
  3. Mike:
    Thank you for the boost of faith and confidence.
    Nate has always said you have to go with what you got or what you can get and make the most of it. I have taken that philosophy to my own life. I had to take an early retirement because of my knees, and all that other rot, but as Nate said you have got to go with what you got. I found a job that my wife can work together on so as how she can watch my back. It doesn't make us rich, it takes up much of my time, but it gives me the ability to go on with what I've got, and believe it or not makes me happy.

    Nate surely hasn't been able to keep the players that he wants as franchise players, but he has always been able to get the most out of what he has as the roster, And that is what coaching is really about. Hell, anybody can choose teams like the Zen master did and get the reputation of the most winnings coach in the NBA, but unlike the Zen master, Nate never gives up on a team because the star is gone, he digs into what's left and finds a way to keep the team going.

    He has been criticized by so many for not being what we need to get us over the top, for not using the teams talent to its fullest, but part of his job is to win games, and his team may not win as much as they would like, but the team wins lots more then what is expected of them.

    I have to laugh at the fans that was saying just three weeks before play offs that the team could not make the play-offs, but Nate miraculously put the team to the grind, got them in the play-offs and even won a couple of game, only to hear the same fans bitch about them being tired of Nate being a one and done coach.

    I say about Nate as Nate says about his team. I surely don't know if he is the best coach out there, but regardless we have to go with what we got, and when the bitching is done and you look back at the era, most realistic fans realize it was a terrific run. That era is over and the new one begins and Nate is a big, big part of the past era and hopefully part of the new era. He is truly “The Rock that keeps this team solid.”

    by Hg on 12/13/2011 2:02 AM
  4. Mike:
    If Thomas can keep hitting those little jumpers and getting rebounds and of course playing D, he will help keep the pressure off from LMA. That IMO, was the only thing we were missing last year after Camby's knee injury, having someone to score enough down low or can create their own shot enough to keep the D honest.

    The make up work of Camby and now Thomas is the most important role on the team, keeping the defense from surrounding our Star, until we get Greg back.

    by Hg on 12/13/2011 2:24 AM
  5. Nates a decent coach, but honestly, every year we play in the playoffs, and every year we lose in 6 games to teams we have a good chance of defeating, and every year it seems we lose because of poor performance, I think Nate is very different than the rest of the Blazers - he's overrated. You hear broadcasters for the NBA on NBA TV and what not always giving credit to Nate McMillan, and he does deserve it, but the fact of the matter is that he steps up when injuries happen during the season, and falls flat on his face in the playoffs. Maybe the opposing teams are just better, but it just sickens me when we go on long droughts and it seems to take the entire series for Nate to make a move that ends up working when tons of fans have been suggesting it the entire series.

    I respect Nate, and am not one to yell that we should fire him, but the thing is, I don't know how many more strikes he deserves before getting let-go. Is there a payoff in the end? Maybe, but the fact of the matter is Nate still needs to become a better coach in the playoffs and find mismatches, rather than being the one that has to solve them all the time.

    Honestly, I think Nate shadows the players from time to time when it comes to credit. Every year a player steps up when injuries happen. Do we know if Nate was the reason? No, we don't (no one tells us), but Nate needs to get this team playing when it matters the most. Sorry for the "hate" but that Dallas series left a horrible taste in my mouth, and it'll take a lot to clean it out.

    by Herr on 12/13/2011 2:54 AM
  6. I think that Nate being selected over and over as one of the Olympic coaches is enough said.

    My wish now is that Pryz will sign after the holiday with his family. Then Kurt can spend more time at PF and center by geezer convention.

    by Ancientone on 12/13/2011 5:12 AM
  7. Herr:
    Regardless of your bias opinion of Nate, He is far from being the fall guy to our exit after game six. Maybe the series against Houston as the team and the coach was in-experienced. The last two years if it hadn't been for Nate getting the team to believe in themselves and face adversities head on we would not have made the play offs. Without BRoy at full capacity we were terrible underdogs the last two years. I am not a BB expert or a coach, but it wouldn't take much logic to know if a team has one good player, prevent him from scoring and you can beat the team. If our shooters can't make the shoots then they can swarm LMA like mad hornet.

    I am not saying that Nate is the best coach in the world, I am not saying that Nate doesn't make mistakes or doesn't have a lot to learn, but he has the players respect and trust and I am not sure of any coach that is out there that could do a better job then Nate did. Do you have one in mind?

    by Hg on 12/13/2011 5:23 AM
  8. Ancientone:
    Glad to see you back,

    I feel you are right about Nate.
    Pryz might still sign that would be great.
    It was said that Greg's set back was of the non wt barring misalignment type, I looked that up and it was said the Patella not tracking right in the femoral track. and the problem should be fully corrective. I don't know what procedure is used more often, could you be of help?

    by Hg on 12/13/2011 5:29 AM
  9. I'm not thrilled that the Blazers spent the time I was away from this site "upgrading" in such a way that it crashes my browser half the time I log on. I just lost a long, almost completed post saying, essentially, that it's easy to see what we think are mistakes in game-level decisions, hard to know if we're right--unless we've got the steely self-certainty of the twenty-something--and almost impossible to weigh those "mistakes" against the behind-the-scene qualities that meld a team, shape its will and philosophy, and keep everyone on track through adversity. So I'd better just post this before the site tries again to load a video in the middle of my revision process.

    by Islander on 12/13/2011 3:32 PM
  10. Nate is the Rock. He will do the same job he always does. Overachieve. The coaching staff will sorely miss Bill Bayno. Still scratching my head on that move. I'm also a little concerned about our back up point guard situation. Black Friday will soon be a memory. Plenty to cheer about soon. GO BLAZERS!!!

    by Divotking on 12/13/2011 5:24 PM
  11. HG, I did have one in mind, but he was already picked up by a team.

    I'm not a Nate basher, but I question if he really is the coach we need to make it to the next level. And, honestly, I need to hear from the players if it truly is Nate that gets the players to play their best and overachieve.

    But, I'm not going to bash Nate on a blog dedicated to him. He's a great coach, no doubt about it. He's done a fine job, I just question if he's the coach that can take us far in the playoffs. The thing about NBA.com is they always, ALWAYS overrated players and coaches. Imo, Tom Thibbs and Scott Brookes and especially Mike Brown did not deserve to be the last 3 COTY winners. In fact, I think Nate deserved it 2 years ago over Scottie Brookes. So, because of my hate for the NBA media (when I say that, I don't mean MB or Rice, or anyone like that, I mean the people that just talk and talk to overrated players like Kevin Durant and to bash players to overrate the players they think the fans will like).

    Nates done good, but he really needs to step it up imo.

    by Herr on 12/13/2011 9:58 PM
  12. What is up with PDX and the injury bug?

    by mbmurr1 on 12/14/2011 12:01 PM
  13. Herr:
    From what Nate was to what he is I think he has stepped it up.
    He feels he has to play the system his players allows
    To play uptempo, the players has to be quick at getting to their spot. If they don't do that because of Dre and BRoy, then you have to concede to a slower pace.
    In the beginning he had all young players that had to learn to walk before they could learn to run. LMA is the only one left of that group. Will Wesley, Batum, Smith, and others be ready to take off running and getting set up for a fast pace and be able to hit outside shots. That is not on Nate, that is on the players.

    by Hg on 12/14/2011 12:10 PM
  14. Herr, Kevin Durant, overrated? I predict he'll be in the Hall of Fame.

    by teradasan on 12/14/2011 10:08 PM
  15. Jamal Crawford just twitter'd "Rip City"!!!......Guess hes going to sign with the Blazers. Nice pick up in my opinion. Solid shooting guard whos been a typical 15-20ppg guy for the majority of his career :) And he always seem to have good games against us lol.

    by whitefeather21380 on 12/15/2011 2:14 PM
  16. whitefeather21380
    Sounds good to me, but any Roster depth an improvement going into the treacherous season is good news

    by Hg on 12/15/2011 4:03 PM
  17. A great post MB,Nate embodies this team for sure.There have been times when you think we r on a nosedive,then We reel off some incredible run on the road.Nate has this amazing calm about him that this team believes in.He has taken a ton of flack for his conservative style ,but the man wins games ,and with duct tape sometimes. I love his perserverance.

    by DowntownVinnie on 12/16/2011 7:41 AM
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