In the revival of his head coaching career, Nate McMillan thought perhaps he could be the older, wiser, calmer coach who didn't feel the need to stand and hover over the action. It hasn't turned out that way.
McMillan, back in the "big chair" following a four-year absence, has found the urge to stand an irresistible force during the Pacers' preseason, which concludes on Wednesday in Milwaukee.
"I thought I would be sitting a little more, and that lasted about two minutes in the first quarter (of the first preseason game) and a minute in the third," he said Tuesday, following practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"I just feel like I'm a part of the team and I'm out there with them. When I'm sitting there I don't feel as close. We'll see."
McMillan says the preseason has been valuable to reacquaint himself with head coaching, but hasn't found it particularly difficult. He's done it for 12 ½ seasons, in Seattle and Portland, and was on the bench as an assistant with the Pacers the past three. He's never been far from it, mentally or physically.
That's why his fingerprints will be all over the team. Of all the Pacers' recent coaches, he's the most like Larry Bird – demanding and direct. But unlike Bird, because of his vast coaching experience, he won't delegate all that much. He's handling most of the offense, with input from assistants Dan Burke, Popeye Jones and Bill Bayno, and has input into the defense that Burke will direct.
"It's not hard," McMillan said. "I was in a situation like that my last job (in Portland) where I delegated a lot more, and I didn't like that as much. I said if I ever got to this opportunity again, I would be more hands-on, which I was in Seattle and my early days in Portland. My last couple of years I started to give more to my assistants. I'm more hands-on with this group and will continue to be."
That isn't to say McMillan plans to micromanage. He wants his players to make as many decisions for themselves as possible on offense. Scoring in transition is always the first option. Finding an open shot before the defense can get set in the halfcourt offense is the second. Spreading the floor, moving the ball and reacting to the defense is the third.
Calling a set play is the fourth.
"We've personalized our offense some, so we can get certain guys the ball in certain positions," he said. "My hope is that I'm not having to stand up and call sets a lot – that they're able to react to what the defense is giving them and execute in our early offense. We have sets, but I want to trust that they know the sets to get into and our early offense and they're playing off each other. The less plays I have to call, the more difficult for teams to defend us and scout us."
McMillan reaffirmed his plan to approach Wednesday's game like a regular season game. The starters will play at least 30 minutes together, as they did in Orlando last week … C.J. Miles was on the practice court shooting Tuesday, but did not participate in the workout. McMillan said Miles, who has a sore knee, might be cleared for Wednesday's shootaround in Milwaukee, but won't dress for the game … Glenn Robinson has been getting Miles' backup minutes, but McMillan is leaving his options open for when Miles returns. "We'll have to see," he said. "Once we get through tomorrow's game, and get ourselves ready for Dallas (in the season-opener), we'll see where we are. And put the guy out there we feel can help us right away. Glenn has been doing a good job at that position. If that's the way we go, we go that way. We have depth. Everybody's got to be ready to play. We haven't made any decisions yet."
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