Nate McMillan, as he had done after every other game this season (aside from the games he missed with, what else, injury), addressed his team after they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Suns in Game 6 at the Rose Garden. It would be the last time of the 2009-10 season that McMillan would stand in front of his players in the Trail Blazers' locker room.
After every other game of the season, McMillan would talk about what the team did right, what they did wrong, what they needed to improve upon or carry over to the next game. But in the locker room after Game 6, with no upcoming contest to prepare for, McMillan skipped over slow rotations on defense and boxing out, choosing instead to offer his kudos on a hard-fought season.
"I'm proud of the guys," said McMillan. "I thought we fought all year long. With everything that they had to go through, all the injuries. We're not making excuses but they had to fight through a lot and we had guys to step up and play and be productive and was able to win 50 games, which I think is a benchmark for a team having a really good year. Not just a good year, but a good year when you win 50 games. With all the adversity and injuries that we had this year, we were able to do that."
Kind words. But as is usually the case with McMillan, those compliments were followed up with a stern message: the goals that were set out for the 2009-10 season were not accomplished.
"Our goal is not to just win 50 games and get to the playoffs," said McMillan. "We're putting this team together and signing guys and drafting players to win a championship one day."
Obviously, that day would not come this season, which left McMillan questioning what the next day would bring. For the first time in over six months, tomorrow would not be defined by preparation for the next game, leaving a workaholic like McMillan posing existential questions to himself and his team.
"As I told them, what are we going to do tomorrow?" said McMillan. "Sometimes you think your tired and your body is hurting and you need a rest, you need a break. There's nothing to do tomorrow."
After touching on pride and the uncertainty of the future, McMillan finished off his final address of the season by imploring his team and staff to remember the feeling that came along with being eliminated once again in the first round.
"I hope it hurts right now, for all of us," said McMillan. "Even though we're without some guys and we had Brandon coming back, we still have a chance. But this need to hurt. We need to get a grasp on really how this feels because next year at this time we want to be moving on to the next round and competing for a championship."
For Brandon Roy, the message was understood, but not entirely agreed with.
"I understand what he's saying," said Roy. "You always remember it, but it's like once you go into next year, you deal with new adversity and you kind of start just trying to get through that. I think we went through so much this year that we really didn't get a chance to think about last year much."
Maybe that was the problem. Though remembering the disappointment that accompanied losing to the Houston Rockets in the first round last season wouldn't have protected the team from injuries, maybe carrying those lessons in the back of their minds might have helped the Trail Blazers stay just a bit closer to the Suns in those back-to-back blowouts. Impossible to tell now, but McMillan didn't want to leave it to chance for next year. Even if they couldn't continue playing, at least they could take the lesson to next season.
"We prove a lot from last year," said Nicolas Batum. "We still got some mistakes. Like Coach say, got to learn from that. Next year is going to be better than today. We've got to take care of our body. You learn what we've done during this series to be better next year."