Nearly a month ago, Portland TrailBlazers management (or the brain-trust that is Paul Allen and Larry Miller) decided to part ways with Mr. Seattle, Nate McMillan. To many, this move was in the organization’s best interest as there were reports that players wanted Nate fired, and that he was losing control of the team.
Despite the notion that there was a mutiny brewing, and Portland management decided to let the captain go, McMillan deserves a bit of recognition for his time spent as a Blazer.
Here are some of the great Nate McMillan moments from his tenure as head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers.
He moved Portland passed the Jail Blazer Era
While this list may be in no particular order, I feel as though this McMillan accomplishment trumps all. In the early 2000’s the Portland Trail Blazers, helmed by Maurice Cheeks, developed a persona about themselves that got them all of the wrong press.
Fast forward to the 2005-06 season and Portland management decided to let Nate McMillan take over the reigns of a franchise in desperate need of revival.
Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire had moved on, Ruben Patterson was playing in his last season for the Blazers, and the long road towards erasing the “Jail Blazer” nickname had begun.
It may have taken a few years to fully create a new reputation amongst their fans, but the McMillan hire was the best decision Portland’s management had made in years.
The 2008-09 season
Each year under the direction of Nate McMillan, the Blazers saw their win totals drastically change for the better. No improvement, however, was as big as what the 2008-09 season produced.
Going 41-41 the previous year, Portland notched a 54-28 record, good for 2nd in the Pacific Division, and earned a trip to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Houston Rockets, Portland’s season may have ended a disappointment, but the accomplishment of 54 wins helped revitalize a basketball city yearning for something to cheer about.
50 wins in 2009-10 despite massive injuries
In the 2009-10 NBA season, no team got bit by the injury bug more than the Portland Trail Blazers.
Missing a combined 311 games, the Blazers were forced to try out 16 different starting lineups throughout the year. A tall task for any team, let alone a team that was still able to notch 50 wins. That’s no typo, they won 50 games.
Greg Oden went down with another knee injury (surprising?), G got hurt while showering, Jeff Pendergraph missed the year, Patty Mills and Travis Outlaw battled foot injuries, Nic Batum had a bum shoulder, Rudy Fernandez had back issues, and so on and so on.
Despite this rash of injuries, McMillan found a way to push him team to a 50 win season, however, they did find themselves losing in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
But making the playoffs was nothing short of a miracle for such an injury laden team.
Out with the old, in with the new
Upon his arrival in Portland, Nate McMillan absorbed a bit of the baggage that came along with the team.
We mentioned Patterson earlier, but the biggest threat to Nate McMillan stabilizing the locker room was with Zach Randolph.
Randolph lasted just two years on Nate’s Blazers, and once he left it paved the way for Portland’s future stars, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, to start calling the team their own.
While Zach Randolph was, and arguably still is, a very productive basketball player, it was in Portland’s best interest to completely cut ties with everything “Jail Blazer” and start fresh. Looking at the success McMillan found post Z-Bo, you could say that the decision to let him go was a good one.
So what happened this year?
Although McMillan found a way to usher out the “Jail Blazer” era, notch two 50 win seasons, and bring Portland back in to some relevant basketball discussion, something happened this year that ultimately saw him lose his job.
While its hard to pinpoint exactly what happened, some say he lost control of the locker room, and everybody could see his team wasn’t winning enough games, Nate McMillan took his firing in stride. He even went so far as to take out a full page ad thanking the city of Portland.
What a way to go out huh?