Thanks for the memories.
In the summer of 2005, the Portland Trail Blazers knew one thing about their abysmal basketball team.
It was time for a change.
The team needed a new roster, a new culture and a new head coach to replace recently fired Maurice Cheeks; but more than anything else, they needed hope.
Nate McMillan would give them that hope when he took over the head coaching position following his 52-win season with the Seattle Supersonics.
Although he was never able to take the team back to the top of the Western Conference, he was a leader who helped groom a young group of prospects and he was a person whom was genuinely liked and respected by most of the fan base that constantly surrounded him.
Flash forward seven years, and the Blazers have now moved on to Terry Stotts. McMillan was fired last season, and while his departure wasn’t the way most envisioned it, he has earned himself a permanent spot in Rip City’s history.
Simply put: Mr. Sonic is a Trail Blazer for life.
5) 50-Win Season Despite Incredible Injuries
The 2009-10 season was one of the most injury-riddled occurrences in Portland Trail Blazers history—and that’s saying something—but fans in Portland were not disappointed, as the team managed to miraculously pull off 50 wins that year.
Even McMillan, himself, managed to rupture his Achilles tendon while filling in for injured players at practice.
This team had every right to throw in the towel, but behind McMillan’s leadership, the team fought on and put together 50 wins, making you wonder just how good a healthy team could have been that season.
4) Brilliant Game-winner vs San Antonio Spurs
It’s no secret in Portland that McMillan was never known for his play-calling skills—his favorite set to run was called “Give the ball to Brandon Roy and let him score.”
But in 2011 against the San Antonio Spurs, the coach drew up one of the best late-game plays that the league saw all season long.
Everybody in the building knew the ball was going to Roy, so when Nicolas Batum left his screening duties for a backdoor alley-oop, the entire Rose Garden was caught off guard, including the Spurs and their legendary coach Gregg Popovich.
Batum made the shot, but the unsung hero of this performance was McMillan for trusting a veteran point guard in Andre Miller and a young, athletic wing in Batum to make the play against an unsuspecting defense.
3) Making the Move Down I-5
You really can’t reflect on McMillan’s best moments in Portland without thinking about the day he was hired by the Trail Blazers organization.
McMillan earned a big-time pay day from the franchise in 2005 as he left the team he was so familiar with, the Seattle Supersonics.
The coach infamously known as Mr. Seattle made his impact felt almost immediately.
While the team struggled during his first year in command, he showed that he wouldn’t take adversity lightly with his willingness to stand up to notorious trouble maker Zach Randolph.
McMillan quickly earned the nickname Sarge, as he began to set the tone for much-needed change in Rip City.
2) Brandon Roy’s Game-4 Comeback
Roy has been massively credited with the comeback that took place in game four of the team’s 2011 playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks; and rightfully so.
That being said, give McMillan some serious credit for his willingness to let Brandon Roy be Brandon Roy.
The former All-Star was playing hurt and was simply a shell of his former self for most of the series. He had even uncharacteristically spoken out against his coaching staff, stating that he felt he should have earned more minutes than the other reserves, specifically naming Patty Mills and Rudy Fernandez.
McMillan could have tossed him aside, but instead he gave him the keys and let him loose in the final quarter of game four.
This event is one of the greatest moments in recent—and even distant—Trail Blazers memory, but it never would have taken place without the confidence that the head coach displayed in his one-time franchise player.
1) Making the Playoffs in 2009
McMillan’s first season with the Blazers was a dreadful 21-win year, but it wouldn’t be too long before he had seemingly turned the team around.
His team jumped up 11 wins in 2007, nine wins in 2008, and by the time the 2009 playoffs rolled around, McMillan and his squad had improved to a 54-win team in a tough Western Conference.
For the Trail Blazers, it was the first time they had made the postseason since the 2002-03 season.
The team would go on to lose in the first round against the Houston Rockets, but a return to the playoffs meant a return to relevancy, which was one of the final steps in recovering from the ugly days of the Jail Blazers just a few seasons before.