Questions are being raised about Nate McMillan's quote from Jason Quick's piece yesterday which we quoted in an earlier post. For those who missed it, talking about playing time and critical roles Nate said:
One of the legitimate questions that has come up about this proclamation can be summarized as, "Doesn't Nate realize that we have a very young team where guys need the opportunity to make mistakes without being punished or seeing their playing time disappear?" Honestly I think he does realize what a young team we have and how they need to be treated. In fact I'm sure he realizes it more than anybody.
Ever since he got here Nate has always spoken in pre-season like we were going out and competing for a championship, even when everybody under the sun knew we would be lucky to win 25 that year. You've got to believe that this is intentional. (Unless, of course, you think he forgets what team he coaches every summer.) His style is to plan right and play right whether you have the most talent or not. He's never been the kind of make or accept excuses for playing poorly or losing. My guess is that this is the attitude he wants to instill in our young players. He doesn't want them thinking that games don't matter. He doesn't want them taking playing time for granted. He doesn't want them to come in any less prepared or focused than they would if they knew this next shot would lead them to a championship. I'm relatively certain that if, say, Jarrett Jack made a heady play at the end of the game, shook himself free, and got a great open shot but missed it, Nate would be among the first with his arm around the guy's shoulder after the game saying, "You did well. That shot will fall next time." But there's a difference between what you say before the fact and what you say afterwards. Two of the hardest parts of the game for even the most talented young guys to master are preparation and responsibility. Nate seems to be sending a message that they both will be important.
I think we also see here Nate's acknowledgement (glee?) that we do have a brand new team this year. I would guess that part of the message here is that he finally feels he has some options and depth of talent. Think of the era we just emerged from. Who were the options? There was Zach and...well...Zach. Let's say Zach messed up and broke the critical play at the end of the game because he wasn't paying attention or just wanted to do it his own way. Who was going to be the first option and leading scorer the next game? That's right...Zach. We saw Nate pull Zach early on in halves a few times because he wasn't with the program. But every time he had to put him back in. It just didn't matter. Who else were you going to go through?
That's not true anymore...and not just because Zach is a Knick. With the exception of center (for one more year) Nate is now looking at a roster with multiple options, and reasonable talent, at every position. If you don't take advantage of your opportunity--especially if it's because you didn't care, didn't listen, or came unprepared--somebody else can legitimately step up and do it. And that somebody will not be a charity case or object lesson...they'll probably be good. That's a whole new atmosphere around here. It's exactly the atmosphere in which most successful, veteran teams operate. We're not a veteran team yet and we're not likely to see a ton of success this year by most people's standards, but Nate is sending a signal that the door is open and we're taking the first step through it right now. It's time to work and it's time to earn what you get. And unlike in previous years, now when he says that he says it from a position of strength.
I don't look at this quote as a literal threat to yank anyone who messes up. I look at it as a cold shower to rinse away any residual gloom, bad habits, or bad examples from the years in which we lost 50-60 games per season. I also look at it as an affirmation from our coach that this is a new day.
Oh, and by the way, it appears that Jarrett Jack is not only on board, he is way ahead of the program.