Nate McMillan was presented as the Pacers' 14th head coach Monday, interims excluded, and talked about his vision for the future. There's no way to know how it will work out until it either works out or doesn't, and even then people will have different definitions of "working out."
The only way to determine if not giving Frank Vogel a new contract and giving one instead to McMillan was a good idea is to compare McMillan's performance with how Vogel would have done if he had been brought back and given the same set of circumstances. And there's no way to do that, of course.
McMillan comes with credentials. He has a winning record over 12 years as a head coach in Seattle and Portland (478-452) and remains highly regarded in both cities. He's a safe pick, and makes at least as much sense as any of the other candidates with head coaching experience. The current Pacers seem to respect him, and the transition for all should be fairly smooth.
The rest will remain a mystery for now. The entire video of Monday's 30-minute press conference with McMillan and team president Larry Bird is available on this site, so there's no point in providing a rehash. Instead, here are the key points that emerged from the session, mostly from post-conference conversations with McMillan and Kevin Pritchard, as well as Bird's comments during the formal portion of it.
1. McMillan didn't pursue the position. He was pursued.
McMillan said he had only pursued two other head coaching positions during his three seasons as a Pacers assistant under Vogel. One of those was last year, but the job had been filled by the time his agent reached the team. (Chicago, Orlando, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Denver had openings a year ago.) The other was Sacramento, where he interviewed on May 9.
McMillan's first reaction upon learning that Vogel would not be given a new contract was that he was going to have to find another job, assuming the new head coach would want to hire his own staff of assistants. He did not reach out to the Pacers for an interview. As you can imagine, that would have been awkward, making him appear like a vulture circling Vogel's remains. Then he received a call telling him Bird wanted to speak with him, although the specific nature of the conversation was left unsaid.
McMillan's thoughts: What is this about? Could it be?
Bird's first question to him was whether he was interested in being a head coach again.
McMillan said it depended – on the front office's vision, primarily, and whether he felt he was in agreement with it.
What about this organization? Bird asked.
McMillan said he liked what Bird was trying to do with the Pacers, the culture he was trying to develop and the roster he was rebuilding. He also liked living in Indianapolis.
Bird asked if he had interest in coaching the Pacers.
General manager Kevin Pritchard, who was Portland's general manager for three of the seasons McMillan coached there, played a key role in the transaction. Bird talked with Pritchard a few times before interviewing McMillan for background information, and by the time he finished talking with McMillan was convinced the right candidate was already here.
"Larry sat down with Nate and they got comfortable (with one another) and that was the guy," Pritchard said.
Simple as that. What impressed Bird?
"I like his demeanor," Bird said. "I like the old school. I like players to be held accountable. I like structure. I like a lot of things that Nate brings to the table."
Pritchard said the Pacers were flooded with inquiries about the opening from prospective coaches. Bird said he talked to a couple of other candidates on the telephone, but had no formal interviews.
Bird also said he talked with two of the current Pacers on the telephone about McMillan.
"The players said they liked Nate and are ready to go to work for him," Bird said.
2. McMillan will keep the same-sized staff of assistant coaches as Vogel had.
Bird and McMillan stated Dan Burke will be asked to remain as the defensive specialist, and they are hopeful of him doing so. Popeye Jones' status is slightly more vague. McMillan will have at least one opening to fill, his own, and he will make that call.
"It's going to be hard to replace me," he said, letting out a hearty laugh.
McMillan also mentioned the possibility of adding a behind-the-bench coach who can focus on individual workouts with the players.
"I want a guy who can bring something to the team," McMillan said. "That might be a guy to help develop these young guys. That's important to have a guy who can work your guys out."
3. The nature of McMillan's offense will reflect the roster.
Much has been made of the pace of McMillan's offense in Seattle and Portland. It ranked among the slowest in the league, although it ranked high in efficiency.
That's not necessarily what he wants. He coached to the strengths of his talent, such as shooting guard Brandon Roy in Portland. He's open to playing whatever style is best suited for the players he has going into next season.
"I've always felt Nate's strength is seeing what the team is comprised of (and coaching relevant to that)," Pritchard said.
Contrary to the opinion of some, Bird was not angry over Vogel's decision to go back to a "big" lineup and move away from the spread offense with which he began last season. But Bird and McMillan did talk about bringing more pace back to the offense. Bird said Monday that last season's offense became "stagnated" and McMillan is not opposed to making changes.
The makeup of the roster will influence that, however, particularly who starts at point guard.
"Conditions dictate how fast you play," he said. "You need to be able to play both."
McMillan said he and Bird and the rest of the coaching staff will get together later this week to talk about the roster and how it will be shaped over the summer.
"Then you hone in on the system that you want to put in place," McMillan said. "That's based on the roster I have."
McMillan indicated that while Burke will be the defensive coordinator if he returns to the staff, he will have no offensive coordinator.
"I've been labeled a defensive guy," McMillan said. "Yeah, I played defense, but you have to be able to play both sides of the ball, and if you expect your players to be two-way guys, you better be able to coach both ways. I will be coaching both ways."
4. The Pacers appear to be in the market for a point guard.
McMillan said if the season were to start today Monta Ellis would be his starting point guard. Vogel had let Ellis and George Hill share point guard responsibilities, but put the ball almost exclusively in Ellis' hands later in the season and had Hill – the team's best 3-point shooter – play an off-guard position.
Bird, though, said he's open to making changes.
"Obviously, I'd like to have a real point guard," he said. "I felt comfortable when Ty Lawson was here making plays and getting up and down the court.
"The summer is going to be full of surprises, I think. I think there will be a lot of trading, so it's all new for all of us. To sit here and tell you we'll get a point guard, I don't know yet. There's some out there I really like. We have some needs and some players we really like, and hopefully we can go out there and get them."
McMillan also said he was impressed with Lawson, who played 13 games for the Pacers after he had been released by Houston. Lawson, 28, averaged 15.2 points, 9.6 assists and 2.5 turnovers the previous season in Denver, but didn't have time to get acclimated to the Pacers' offense and personnel. He was often impressive in the regular season, but less effective in the playoff series with Toronto.
"It was difficult for him to come in (late)," McMillan said. "I thought it was difficult for Frank. It was a challenge for the coaches, because we had a three-guard rotation set. This...is Ty Lawson, who can play and needs to play to show what he can do. That was tough because you have George Hill and Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey already getting 25, 30 minutes."
5. McMillan will be "tougher" than Vogel, but not as tough as he was in the past.
McMillan considers himself an "old-school" coach, and that's what Bird wants.
"I sort of like that," Bird said. "It's not like you have to get up in players' faces anymore and yell and scream, but you do have to have control and you have to have their attention. I'm sure Nate will have that."
Pritchard, meanwhile, saw it first-hand in Portland, and hopes to see more of it.
"Nate has always been, 'Here's the line, here's what we're going to do and here's what we're going to do every single day,'" Pritchard said.
"Behind the scenes, I think he does it right in that he never wants to publicly embarrass anybody. I've seen him in the locker room. He's stern, strong and to the point."
McMillan acknowledges, however, he's softened his approach since his previous coaching stops and is more open to listening to the players now, for example.
"I've learned a lot," he said. "My approach will be a little different than it was in 2005. Things have changed. The players have changed. How you coach these players has changed. The biggest thing is being able to adapt.
"There's a lot of old school in me. I won't lose all of that, but I understand you have to adapt to this generation of players as far as how you communicate with them, prepare them."
Bird was asked in what areas he wants to see more accountability.
"Our practice habits, respecting one another a little more," he said. "There's a lot that goes into it. Everybody has to be held accountable, not just one or two guys. They're all important. You don't have a team unless everybody's pulling together.
Bird also referenced the need for improved communication between players and coaches.
"This job is more than offense and defense, it's a little bit of everything," he said. "I think communication is one of the most important things. Every player needs to know where they stand at all times. Why they're not playing, or why they get taken out of games at a certain time. Nate proved in Portland and Seattle that he can do all that.
"It's not just one or two things. It's really a lot of things. There's more that goes into it than throw the ball up in the air. It's playing hard and together. You're not always going to play well, but you can always get the effort. And I think Nate will get that out of them."
6. Myles Turner's future is likely at center.
McMillan said he believes Myles Turner's best position going forward is at center rather than power forward, where he played played mostly last season as a rookie.
Turner started 30 of the 60 games he played last season. He averaged 10.3 points on 50 percent shooting in the regular season, along with 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. He averaged 10.3 points on 46.5 percent shooting in the playoffs, along with 6.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.
McMillan compared him to another former University of Texas player, All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
"That kid's work habit is amazing," McMillan said. "He puts in his time. I think he will one day be an All-Star in this league. I just get excited about his growth."
Bird agreed that Turner's best position might be center, but thinks he also can play the "four" position going forward.
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