McMillan on Olympic-sized quest

Former Trail Blazers coach seeks new job, redemption in NBA
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Nate McMillan says Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen didn't make a mistake in firing him as Portland's coach in March.

On July 6, Nate McMillan will take to the court with the rest of the U.S. Olympic basketball coaching staff for the opening of training camp at Las Vegas in preparation for the London Games, July 28 to Aug. 12.

What is unsure is if McMillan will have an NBA coaching job by then.

The former Trail Blazers coach interviewed for the vacant Charlotte Bobcats position last week and is considered among the leading candidates, along with Jerry Sloan, Brian Shaw and Michael Malone.

Does McMillan want the Charlotte job?

"I'm looking at situations," he said via phone from Cary, N.C., 12 miles from his hometown of Raleigh. "We'll see what happens. They're interviewing a lot of guys, trying to see which direction they will go."

It would make sense that McMillan's interest would be piqued by his background -- he starred at North Carolina State in Raleigh -- and by his relationship with Bobcats general manager Rich Cho, with whom he worked in Seattle and Portland.

"It's not because I'm a Carolina guy," McMillan insists. "I'm looking for a similar situation as I had with the Blazers.

"I want to be in an organization where everybody is totally on the same page as far as how they execute their plan. If that plan works for me, it works for them."

Did McMillan feel he had that kind of relationship with his co-workers in Portland?

"Of course," he says. "No question."

McMillan's reference is to those he worked with in the front office and a coaching staff that included Monty Williams, Bernie Bickerstaff and Bill Bayno, among others, over the years.

Still, McMillan offers no criticism for owner Paul Allen, who fired him in March after 6 1/2 seasons at the Blazer helm. Did Allen made a mistake in letting him go?

"No," says McMillan, who was 266-269 in the regular season and never made it beyond the first round of the playoffs during his time with the Blazers. "I had seven years to coach that team. Mr. Allen made a decision he felt was in the best interest of the organization. With everything that went on, he felt it was time to go in another direction.

"He and I talked about it. You lose Brandon Roy, you lose Greg Oden, and your team is not performing the way it needs to be performing. I'm just thankful for the opportunity I had."

McMillan says he has no regrets about anything he did as coach of the Blazers.

"My only regret is we didn't stay healthy," he says. "We had some unfortunate luck where players had career-ending injuries. Brandon was forced out, Greg never got the opportunity to show what he could do. Joel Przybilla had some injuries, and when I first came in, Darius (Miles) and Zach (Randolph) had knee issues.

"Brandon, LaMarcus (Aldridge) and Greg never got to play a full season together. We never got to see our young talent develop and grow together like they have in Oklahoma City, where you're seeing (Kevin) Durant and (Russell) Westbrook and (James) Harden and (Serge) Ibaka, all guys they drafted. They've stayed healthy, grown together and are now a very competitive team."

You think?

McMillan doesn't second-guess the choice of drafting Oden over Durant with the first pick in the 2007 draft.

"We felt at that time we needed a big guy," McMillan says. "That's one of those unfortunate situations. Greg had some major injuries.

"No question in my mind, if he had stayed healthy, he would have been able to have a huge impact for us on the court. What Durant has done speaks for itself, but there were two No. 1 picks in that draft."

The rash of injuries with the Blazers was nothing more than bum luck, says McMillan, who was on the injured list himself with a torn Achilles' tendon at one point.

"I don't blame any of it on the medical staff," he says. "They had absolutely nothing to do with it. Neither did my coaching or how we were training (the players).

"It was just a series of unfortunate situations. Like with Greg, where we didn't have an opportunity to oversee this last year because of the lockout. He had a setback, but that wasn't on our medical staff. It wasn't Jay (Jensen, the trainer) or our strength and conditioning guys."

There were charges that veterans such as Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton laid down on McMillan in the final weeks of his tenure.

"I'm not saying that," he says. "To single out certain players ... it wasn't one or two individuals. As a unit, we didn't play well enough.

"There's a point when it's just time to do something different. That's where we got to this year. It wasn't working out. It was time to go in a different direction."

Following his dismissal, McMillan says he closely followed the Blazers via television the rest of the season.

"I watched them play, to see how things were going, how guys would respond to playing under the conditions they had to play with," he says. "I kept up with what the team was doing. I was in contact with a few of the guys on the staff -- Kaleb (Canales), Bernie, Bob (Ociepka)."

McMillan doesn't quarrel with management's decision to all but tank the final few weeks of the season.

"They were committed to giving the young guys an opportunity to play," he says. "I understand that. Once they made the move to let me go and to trade Camby and Wallace, that was the indication they were going to start to transform the team and build for the future."

McMillan was part of Mike Krzyzewski's staff that coached the U.S. team to the 2008 Olympic title at Beijing.

"We've talked about defending the gold medal for a couple of years now," he says. "This will be the last year for all of us (coaches), and we're excited for the opportunity."

After training camp, the Olympic team will play a pair of exhibitions in Washington, D.C., before heading for England for the Games.

Since his firing, McMillan has laid low, dividing his time between Seattle, North Carolina and Portland -- he hasn't sold his West Linn home -- all the while watching a lot of NBA basketball.

"Right now, my thing is to sit back, relax and see what happens in the next couple of months," he says. "Then I'll make some decisions about my future.

"I'm looking for the right (coaching) opportunity. If that happens this year, I'll get back into coaching. If not, I'll wait until it's right. But hopefully, something will happen soon."