Consistency The Key For McMillan
New challenges often require new solutions, and a wave of injuries has been one heck of a challenge for Nate McMillan this season.
Going from a team that some thought had too much talent to a squad relying on D-Leaguers just to meet minimum player requirements would seem to test the limits of any coach. Amazingly, though, the Trail Blazers coach has guided his team to a record almost identical as last season’s with nothing more than the tried and true solutions he has always relied upon.
“I coach my group the same,” McMillan said. “I have them prepared, the guys we have in uniform … I have to find a way to try and win games. What you’re going to be measured on is what you do, win or lose, regardless of who is in uniform.”
By any measurement, he’s done a great job. McMillan uses phrases like “hard work,” “scrappy play” and “playing connected.” Sometimes they may sound like crutches (excuse the pun), but when you see his teams continue to play well despite adversity bordering on the absurd, you realize the reason he doesn’t need to change anything is because he has stuck to the blue-collar principles his words represent.
“Injuries, this is as crazy as I’ve ever seen as far as what is happening to this roster of players,” said McMillan. “It’s crazy. But for me and the staff and the players, through good and bad, what we did last game, that’s over. Now we’ve got to get ourselves ready for the next game. Really the approach is the same, with or without your guys. Win or lose, you’ve got to find a way to do better next game.”
Portland finished December with a 9-6 record despite losing both Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the season and Rudy Fernandez for most of the month. The ability to stay competitive while relying on a decimated roster (that includes two rookies taken in the second round) is something to celebrate, even if McMillan refuses to pat himself on the back.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to find a way to win some games, stay in this race,” McMillan said. “I’m not tricked into believing that all the sudden I’m doing something great. Our guys have played the game the right way and we’ve been fortunate enough to win some of these games. As a coach at this level the bottom line is, regardless of injuries, people are going to look at whether you’re winning.”
McMillan’s resolve is a trait appreciated by General Manager Kevin Pritchard.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” Pritchard said. “The thing about Nate is he has strong beliefs on the way the game should be played and he never veers from that. He’s got this great foundation that he relies on all the time. When you have that foundation you work every day to make sure you’re growing.
“He’s done that very well. I think the players know what we’re about, and that’s one of the keys in this business and this league: you know what you’re about, you believe it and that’s your belief system and you do everything you can to get better that way.”
It’s one thing for a coach and general manager to talk of such things. After all, there have been plenty teams with solid foundations that end up getting undercut by players who aren’t willing to buy in, but McMillan has managed to avoid that pitfall, partially because he’s unwilling to flinch in the face of tough times.
“Coach always does a good job,” said Brandon Roy
. “He’s the type that – and he installs it in us – you go play with what you’ve got. You don’t feel sorry for yourself. It doesn’t matter who goes down. Even when I didn’t play in San Antonio, he coached the game like we should have won the game. The players pick that up. I think Coach has done a great job of keeping guys motivated and putting guys in great positions to be successful out there.”
Roy’s sentiment is echoed throughout the Trail Blazers locker room, a sure-fire sign that his belief in staying the course is anything but lip service.
“Coach has not changed one thing, aside from putting guys in different positions,” said Martell Webster
. “We get it. We just have to go out there and play. No thinking about it, no hesitating, just going out and playing this game.”
“(McMillan) has done a really good job,” said Jerryd Bayless
, who has been thrust into a starring role in recent weeks. “It’s been a tough time, obviously for him and for us losing everybody, but he’s definitely kept us together. He isn’t going to change because of the injuries. He’s stayed consistent with what he believes.”
McMillan’s consistency is a big reason why the Trail Blazers’ performance has stayed consistent, despite the challenges. Since there is no quick fix for many of the injury woes Portland has endured, McMillan’s steadfast approach will remain invaluable.
“Everybody knows we’ve gone through a lot, more than any team I’ve been involved with,” McMillan said. “It is what it is. Regardless of whether we have guys in uniform or we don’t, these guys are playing the right way and they’re playing the game hard and they’re playing the game together and they’re giving themselves a chance to win.”