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Nate Gate

Apparently the Nate McMillan story is taking on a life of its own and evoking plenty of response and opinion.  In the midst of reading the tea leaves, consider the following:

I don't think anybody is swallowing the "I want to earn it" explanation whole.  It's a great sentiment, but hasn't Nate already earned it, at least in his own mind?  He's shepherded this team through the end of a dismal era and brought them to the cusp of their new future.  He's developed players like Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge.  He netted 41 wins without Greg Oden.  What more could he do?  Something doesn't quite ring true about the explanation...not that it's a lie, just that there has to be something else to it.  Something is at issue either with the offer itself or with the situation.

It's possible that Nate doesn't see himself being happy long-term as the Blazer coach.  Maybe there's something in the office we don't see.  Maybe he envisions himself having more control over personnel decisions than he's likely to get here.  Maybe he prefers a new town in which to ply his trade.  You can't discount these possibilities, but as we've heard nothing in this vein beforehand it's probably prudent to put them on the back burner.

More likely this is an issue of leverage.  The team has done better in each of Nate's years here.  They're likely to improve this year as well.  That would give him more leverage.  After this season he'll have only one more year left on his contract.  Other teams will begin sniffing around.  That will give him more leverage.   The Blazers are about to dump bucket loads of money on players, both existing and incoming.  Dropping $12 million on a shiny, new free agent gives the coach a better argument for paying him better as well.  All of these factors point to the wisdom of waiting until later unless the offer is incredible now.  Nothing will happen in the next year that's going to damage Nate's position.  Even if the team bombs it's a push, here or somewhere else.  But a playoff berth, an impending bidding war, and money flying left and right have the potential to better his situation considerably.

Keep in mind how Nate came to the Blazers.  The Sonics made him offers.  They weren't good enough.  He rode it out, refusing to back down, and eventually got paid more handsomely than anyone imagined by heading to a new team.  This format has worked for him.  We've seen it before.  That doesn't mean he's leaving the Blazers for somebody else.  It means he's not likely to abandon the game plan until he's sure it has paid off.

There is another possibility that nobody has mentioned yet.  It's probably not true, but you wonder.  Nate took an incredible amount of flak last season while leading the Blazers to their best record in years.  In fact, if fan-board conversations are the measure, public assessment of his value and his judgment was at an all-time low.  If you were the Blazers, could you think of a better way to reverse that somewhat illogical tide than to leak a story like this?  "Oh dear, we want Nate but we're not sure we can keep him!  His darn nobility is getting in the way!"  All of a sudden re-signing him has become a priority and this discussion is on everybody's lips.  What do we need to do to keep him?  Will he stay with us?  Come on, Nate...we want you here!  Contrast this with what the response would be had Kevin Pritchard just come out and said, "Nate is our coach.  We like the job he's doing."  Immediately people would suspect he wasn't and they didn't.  This gives the same kind of confirmation, reminds everybody not to take Nate for granted, and brings a swell of vocal, public support for him.  Again...I am not doubting the veracity of the reporting.  This is probably a happy by-product of the story and not the reason for it.   Likely everything happened just as the Blazers office said it did.  But given the effectiveness of the approach, it makes you think a little.

--Dave (