The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 86 | Nate McMillan
Record with the Blazers: 266-269
Best Season: 2008-09, 54-28 (.659)
Awards: NBA Western Conference Coach of the Month three times
Joined Club: July 2005
Departed Club: March 2012, let go mid-season
Place in History: If you’re looking for low spots in the Portland Trail Blazers’ 50-year history, none rivals the Summer of 2005. The Blazers had spent the past four years wallowing through the “Jail Blazers” era. They had won a miserable 27 games the prior season. Veterans Damon Stoudamire, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Ruben Patterson, and Derek Anderson were gone. The previous summer’s draft haul of Sebastian Telfair, Sergei Monia, and Ha Seung-Jin was already showing cracks. Though nobody knew it for sure yet, the Blazers had also made an enormous blunder in the current draft, trading out of a pick that could have netted them Chris Paul or Deron Williams for the chance to select Martell Webster and Jarrett Jack instead. Under these conditions, nobody believed the Blazers were headed anywhere but into a dark tunnel of misery. The franchise had nothing to hang a hat on. They barely had a hat in the first place.
In the midst of this void stepped one figure, the first premium signing the Blazers had made since the beginning of the decade. It wasn’t a player, but Seattle Supersonics coach Nate McMillan. At 40 years of age, McMillan already had four years of head coaching experience under his belt. Coming off a 52-30 season, he was considered one of the top young bench leaders in the league, a guy who would be able to write his own ticket into his next position. Heads turned and eyebrows raised when that position turned out to be 175 miles south in Portland. Former Trail Blazers luminaries Jack Ramsay and Greg Anthony, both working for ESPN at the time, gushed over the signing. It was the first, and only, thing that had gone right for the Blazers in quite a while...a sign that owner Paul Allen’s pocketbook and vision still carried weight.
McMillan immediately set about changing the focus and culture of the franchise. With many of the freewheeling veterans who had run over “players’ coach” Maurice Cheeks gone, the new head man was able to take a harder line with young players. His team went 21-61 in his first season, then drafted LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, and Greg Oden in succession. Skillful moves deeper in the draft provided insulation around the stars, and McMillan would spend his final six years with the club coaching them to a 191-122 cumulative record. He achieved that 61% winning rate (along with a much less impressive 6-12 playoffs tally) even as health issues robbed him of two of his stars.
Along the way, McMillan continued to be known for his no-nonsense style. He was never a flashy interview and seldom seemed satisfied. But in most ways, satisfaction was icing on the cake. When the team most needed him, back in that summer of 2015, he was there, providing hope and security when nobody else would. That, plus his long tenure, gives him the 86th spot on Portland’s Top 100 list.
Discuss your thoughts and memories of Nate McMillan below, and check back every day as we continue the countdown to No. 1.