Northwest Coach Profiles: Nate McMillan

Mac 10 Continues To Hold Court In The Northwest

Born:  August 3, 1964
Place: Raleigh, NC
Position: SG/SF (Seattle SuperSonics 1986-1998, #10 retired by the franchise

  • Player Stats:  796 games, 5.9 points, 6.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds

Head Coach: Seattle SuperSonics 2000-2005, Portland Trail Blazers 2005-Present)

  • Coaching Stats:  Regular Season: 921 games, 476 W – 445 L, .517 W/L %
  •                                  Playoff Season:  34 games, 14 W – 20 L, .412 W/L %

Growing up in the late 80’s and through the 90’s, as a basketball fan, I would look forward to watching my second favorite team, the Seattle Supersonics, on KSTW with Kevin Calabro and Marques Johnson calling the action.

Sure you had the Gary Payton/Shawn Kemp combo leading the way, but the glue guy who made it all work was Nate McMillan.

Not the same showman as the Reign Man, not the same defensive  presence as The Glove, not the same threat from downtown as Dale Ellis, but what “Big Mac” did bring was a small piece of every player on the roster.

More importantly, “Mr. Sonic” was a branch of the coaching staff on the court, with his strong basketball IQ, McMillan made sure that the game plans in which Bernie Bickerstaff, KC Jones and George Karl implemented were carried out on each night.

A Sonic Lifer?

Nate Mcmillan

"Mr. Sonic" was a branch of the coaching staff on the court

After spending his entire twelve year playing career in the “Emerald City” which reached a climax with the 95/96 franchise best 64-16 record and a trip to the NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls, McMillan hung up his number 10 jersey in 1998, which would soon hover above the KeyArena floor, for a three piece suit and a seat next to Paul Westphal for two seasons before taking over as the official bench boss of the only NBA team he ever knew.

Following a terrible start to the 2000-01 season, McMillan, received the nod from the front office that many knew was bound to happen.

While he was able to right the wrong during that his first year, the Sonics missed out on the post season, finishing tenth overall in the West, behind Kevin Garnett’s Timberwolves (8th) and Steve Francis’ Rockets (9th) with a 44-38 record.

One more victory the following year, pushed the Sonics into the playoffs, but were quickly booted by the San Antonio Spurs.

For the first time since the 84-85/85-86 seasons, the Sonics were absent from the playoffs for two straight seasons from 2002-2004, posting less than a .500 record in each of the two seasons.

During McMillan’s final year in Seattle, the Sonics captured the Northwest Division title and the third overall seed in the playoff bracket.  Disposing of the Sacramento Kings 4-1 in the first round, the Supes were once again bounced from the championship chase by the Spurs 4-2 in the Western Semi-Finals.

A Blazers Legend?

For all his on court success and basketball intelligence, McMillan once again found himself heading up a struggling franchise as after nineteen dedicated years in Sonic green and yellow, he relocated south on I5 to become the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers.

McMillan’s first year roster with Portland was the end of the “JailBlazers” era, as the front office made it their mandate to clean up the on and off court trouble that plagued the team over the past few years, as players played for the name on the back of the jersey, rather than the front.

After putting in his time in Seattle and his first couple of years in Portland with more than adequate rosters, the playoff woes continued to plague McMillan, as his first three years in Portland ended early, with the next three seeing an early playoff exit in the first round.

Nate McMillan

Credit has to be given to McMillan for improving the Blazers record in each of his first four years

Despite all his post season short comings, credit has to be given to McMillan for improving the Trail Blazers record in each of his first four years.

Climbing from a 21 win season in 2005-06 to his coaching best 54 wins in 2008-09, McMillan helped resurrect the once proud Portland franchise.

2008 & Beyond

Unfortunately for McMillan, the Blazers paper roster would never fill out properly on court over his tenure, as a constant streak of injuries to key players, Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, Marcus Camby and to a lesser extent former Blazers, Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez and Joel Pryzbilla all had a huge impact on the successes that have evaded the Northwest head coach.

The Blazers streak of misfortune even took a personal toll on McMillan during the 2009-10 season as he suffered an Achilles tendon injury that left him anchored to the bench for much of the season, when he stepped up to fill in a gap during a Blazers practice.

For all that Nate McMillan has done for the game on and off the court in both Seattle and Portland, his coaching shortcomings are starting to put a dark cloud over what was a great basketball career.

With little playoff success in his ten plus years, combined with current ramblings by players about his short leash, odd substitution patterns and lack of modern day basketball awareness, fans will have to look past this season before they call for a replacement, when you take into consideration the lockout schedule and the loss of Roy and Oden at the start of the season, two players that were huge pillars to the Blazers and McMillan’s successful future.

Unlike Dedrick Rolison who saw his career fade after a few hit tracks, Mac 10 has stayed true to the game and shown the longevity that many of his peers have been unable to sustain.

With a little luck on his side, chances are, the Trail Blazers and McMillan will soon reap the rewards of all their efforts and hard work.



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About Steve Lee

Steve is a 12 year writing vet, and writes for a number of sports sites, offering a unique and abstract look at the games we love. He still hopes the Grizz + Sonics return to the Northwest, and has been a Lakers fan since "Showtime".
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