01 April 2010
Nate McMillan doesn’t like to talk about the whole NBA Coach of the Year thing.
That’s just not his style. He’s more about praising his assistant coaches and his team and how they finish.
After easily beating the lowly New York Knicks to clinch a playoff spot out West, McMillan was quick to admit this was just the first step for Portland.
“This is what it’s all about,” McMillan said. “This is what we play for.”
While McMillan deflects the same praise thrown his way, other coaches around the league aren’t shy about boasting about him and the job he’s done in Portland this season. For New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni, McMillan clearly belongs in the Coach of the Year discussion – maybe even more.
“He definitely needs to be mentioned if not win it,” D’Antoni confessed prior to taking on Portland.
“I put him way up there, because of battling through the injuries and them playing their best basketball of the season and going to the playoffs. Scotty Brooks is up there. Scott Skiles is up there. There are always three or four guys who are deserving of it, then you can make the case for the other guys very easily. This year those three guys really deserve it.”
When making the case for Coach of the Year - awarded annually to a coach selected by a vote of writers and broadcasters - defining the criteria for the award can be at times challenging. But this goes deeper than a simple win and loss record. Way deeper.
“It’s the obstacles you overcome and it’s the achieving. You have to overachieve. And that’s why most of coaches of the year get fired because you can’t overachieve every year. It’s tough, I’m telling you. It’s a nice honor. But he probably down plays it because he doesn’t want to get fired,” D’Antoni said laughing.
Ah, the Coach of the Year jinx. Guys like Sam Mitchell (2006-07 with Toronto) and Byron Scott (2007-08 with New Orleans) know it well. Last year that theory didn’t hold true. Cleveland’s Mike Brown took home NBA Coach of the Year honors and now the Cavaliers look poised to be fitted for championship rings.
McMillan finished fourth in balloting with 127 points – with 15 first place votes – behind Houston’s Rick Adelman and Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. Coaches are awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote. But while we wait for this year’s results, at least Western Conference Coach of the Month honors should be coming McMillan’s way very soon.
With the win over the Knicks on Wednesday night, Portland completed March with an 11-2 record. That’s the franchises second-best mark in March (by percentage) in team history (13-2, 96-97).
“I don’t think it’s important that you win it. I think the honor is being mentioned,” D’Antoni continued.
“That means you are doing a heck of a good job. You have to look at like it’s an all-star team and you’re the 13th guy, or you’re trying out for the Olympic team and you just didn’t make it. Someone is going to get left off. You’re talking about two or three of the top coaches in the league on the job you did this year. That’s a heck of an honor. He (McMillan) has to feel very satisfied for how the season goes. I think that trumps everything else.
For the past few years, D’Antoni has come to know McMillan both as a coaching comrade and close friend with both serving as assistant coaches under Mike Krzyzewski on Team USA. They’ll be back at it again this summer. That’s where D’Antoni came and comes to appreciate McMillan.
“He’s very strong in his beliefs but he’s willing to learn. He’s just a good coach and a good guy. Every coach has his principles, but he’s open to things – philosophies. If he sees something from another coach, he’s not afraid to take that and put it in. I think you’ve seen this year how this team morphed into different things. They had to. It served them well. He’s able to shift gears and do what he does to win.”
After everything Nate and the Blazers have endured this season, McMillan has certainly done that and more. He’s persevered.
“With coaching persevering is the whole thing. And to be able not to get sidetracked or distracted with injuries or what’s going on around you,” D’Antoni continued.
“You have to keep hitting the nail on the head and he does that really well.”
McMillan’s equally good at deflecting some praise.