Nate McMillan Interview
The Portland Trail Blazers are 20-44 this season and in last place in the Western conference. Head coach Nate McMillan, in his first year with the team, was formerly known as Mr. Sonic, as he spent his career playing for Seattle and then coaching them before heading over to Portland. InsideHoops.com editor Jeff Lenchiner recently met with McMillan for an exclusive interview.
InsideHoops.com: How far is Martell Webster from being a somewhat complete, full-time player?
Nate McMillan: Martell has a lot of potential, but I think we know, and anyone who follows the NBA knows, that a 19-year-old kid has a ways to go. His potential, his worth ethic is all great. I think he'll be a really good player. A very confident kid... Of course, he has a ways to go.
InsideHoops.com: And the decision to send him down to the D-League for a little while. I think he was down there once, right?
McMillan: Yes. For about two weeks, or a little longer. We played him, he played OK early, and then I felt like he lost a little bit of his confidence. We have a number of young guys that we're trying to play. Couldn't play all of them, and wanted to see what it would be like to send him down and experiment with that league and give him an opportunity to play some. And it worked out. He went down, played well, came back and was happy to be back, and felt like he got his confidence back.
InsideHoops.com: What's been the biggest coaching challenge for you, with this new team?
McMillan: Being with a young team and going through situations where you're losing four, five, six in a row and just trying to keep these guys interested [in] competing, has been a huge challenge. Especially this last week or so, you only have two months of basketball left, and you're out of the playoff race. Some of these guys tend to look at, what are we playing for? Well, you're playing because you're getting paid, and you have games to play. And a lot of them don't want to be a part of it. But this is an opportunity. I think every game you try and use it to improve. And that's what we're trying to get these guys to believe, that even though we're out of it, we want to try and build for next year. We have an opportunity to see some of our guys play together, in different combinations.
InsideHoops.com: Is it surprising to you that you have to actually tell players to work? To do their job?
McMillan: Well, it's not just the Blazers. I'm reading New York's paper, and Coach Brown, I'm listening to some of the things he's saying in the press, and saying the same thing. You're faced with that, in certain situations. That's part of what we get paid for, is to get these guys to compete and to believe in themselves and trust each other and continue to work. At times it's tough. When you're losing like this, you're coaching a lot harder than when you're winning. We're coaching our ass off right now.
InsideHoops.com: It's an interesting balance, between motivating players, teaching some guys the fundamentals, vs. normal, standard X's and O's.
McMillan: It's a little bit of everything. Parenting, teaching, motivating, all of the above, when you're in this position. Simply because, sometimes players look for reasons to sit down. Maybe it's an injury, or maybe it's something that they have, some soreness, and it hurts a little more... well, we still need you to play. And you still need to find a way to prepare and make the most of your season. A goal we've set is, let's try to beat last year's record, 27 wins. There's something to play for. So, that's what we're trying to do.
InsideHoops.com: Do you pay more attention to Seattle than other teams in the league?
McMillan: I really don't. I really don't. Seattle is going through a rough year. I don't wish anything bad for those guys, but I don't look at their position more than I look at any other team. Right now, they're right in front of us. So, no, I don't.
InsideHoops.com: You're busy enough with these guys.
McMillan: I got a lot on my plate. So, no, I don't.
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