A Blazer season of 'major adjustments'
McMillan says team hit by 'bad luck,' not problems in preparation
Nate McMillan begins his seventh season as the Trail Blazers' coach when Portland plays host to the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 26. He will be the second-longest-tenured coach in franchise history. Only Jack Ramsay (10 years) had a longer run.
McMillan is dead-even .500 in the regular season (246-246) during his time with the club, including 152-94 the past three season and 48-34 last season. But McMillan is only 6-12 in the playoffs, and his Portland teams have never gone beyond the first round.
The Portland Tribune sat down with the coach for a Q and A session covering injuries, style of play, team needs and goals for the upcoming season.
Tribune: Brandon Roy's career appears over at 27, and Greg Oden's season may be lost for the season with more knee complications. Does that take away from your excitement as you prepare for the season?
McMillan: It was definitely a shock to us. I plan for all my guys to be in training camp until told otherwise. With Brandon, we weren't sure what to expect, but the plan was to adjust as we went along. With Greg, the anticipation was he would be back around January.
Now it turns out that Brandon is not going to be on the roster and the possibility of getting Greg is later more so than sooner. So, OK, where do we go from here? It means some major adjustments, for sure. We'll go with the guys we have.
Tribune: How do you feel about the talent pool remaining?
McMillan: Wesley (Matthews) stepped in and did a nice job for us last year. Nicolas (Batum) has shown improvement. Gerald (Wallace) is a talented player who should be more comfortable after his first camp with us this year. Raymond (Felton) is a major addition. We're hopeful LaMarcus (Aldridge) will be able to come in and not skip a beat.
The core has changed, from LaMarcus, Brandon and Greg to LaMarcus, Wesley, Nic, Gerald, Raymond and Marcus (Camby). And we'll continue to try to build and make our team stronger.
Tribune: How will the loss of Roy affect the team?
McMillan: It's a big loss. You're talking a three-time All-Star, and one of the best closers in the league the last five years.
The fourth quarter was his time. In this league, you need that type of guy - a player who can create offense and make big shots. You're in a comfort zone when you have that type of talent on the floor.
What we have to do now is create that again. LaMarcus became the guy we played through last year.
Tribune: Do you hold out hope Oden will be available at some point in the season?
McMillan: I do. As long as he is on our roster, you hold that hope. You see him out on the floor (during practice), working out, trying to get back to game action. I hope he can be back, but I have to prepare the team to play as if we'll be without him.
Tribune: Have you spoken with LaMarcus since his heart procedure last Friday? When do you expect him to be able to practice?
McMillan: I have. He is doing OK. He could be maybe between a week to 10 days from returning.
Tribune: That takes you to the week before Christmas. Does that give him enough time to be ready to play in the opener?
McMillan: That's a question I can't answer. What will he be able to do when he comes back? Will he be able to fully participate in the practices? How close will he be to game-ready? We can't say that. We'll just have to see.
Tribune: You added 39-year-old veteran Kurt Thomas to your frontcourt. How much does he have left in his tank?
McMillan: The first day, he looked in pretty good shape for being off the last six months. We did a lot of scrimmaging, and he went through the entire practice and looked fit.
Tribune: How do you see his role?
McMillan: We're looking at playing him off the bench at (center), and he'll play some (power forward), too. He has the versatility to do that. We need a big body who can set screens and play the middle for us. Camby, LaMarcus and Chris Johnson are the same type of (lean) bodies. We needed to get some beef down there to play that position.
Tribune: The Blazers have been last or next-to-last in fastbreak points in each of the last five seasons. With new point guard Felton, do you have plans to run more with this team?
McMillan: Raymond gives us the opportunity to do that.
Tribune: How has he played in training camp thus far?
McMillan: He is stepping out as a leader, talking with the players, encouraging and directing guys out on the floor. He is doing everything you would hope from a point guard. He is working to get his conditioning like a lot of guys, but he has been good.
Tribune: Which of the young players have impressed you?
McMillan: Nolan (Smith) has been good at picking up things quickly. He is very competitive and will figure in immediately at point guard. Elliot (Williams) has been aggressive at both ends. You wouldn't think he is coming off two knee surgeries. He is very explosive as he was before. (Luke) Babbitt and Armon (Johnson) know there is an opportunity and are fighting hard to earn minutes.
Tribune: Some of those players will play right away.
McMillan: With our current roster, they will have to play, and they will be playing a pretty important role. They're going to have to grow up fast. With the (compacted) schedule and a lot of back to-back nights, you are going to need 10 to 12 guys to be ready.
Tribune: It has been reported that the Blazers are bidding for free-agent guard Jamal Crawford. Do you like him as a player?
McMillan: He's a good player. Two years ago, he was (the NBA's) sixth man of the year. He is talented, and he can score in the clutch. He'd be a nice player to have in a backup role.
Tribune: Where do you need the most help, the frontcourt or backcourt?
McMillan: We need both. We're going to be young, certainly in the backcourt. We still want to look at bigs, too. Chad (Buchanan, the interim general manager) is looking at what talent is available in regard to what we can spend. For sure, we need to strengthen our bench, and if we can do it with a veteran, that would be good.
Tribune: How will the shortened training camp affect your team?
McMillan: It's going to be the same for everybody. You're cramming in the days leading up to the season. We'll be spending extra (video) work with the guys, going over what they did in practice, talking about what we need to do and how they can get better.
Tribune: Every year you have been in Portland, there have been major injuries to deal with, and usually with star players. Why do you think that has happened?
McMillan: You look at the situation and things you can control, and there are some things you kind of wonder about. This year was different, because we weren't allowed any contact with our players in the offseason (because of the lockout). There has been so much talk about the medical team and what we're doing and how we're practicing.
But we had nothing to do with the fact that (Roy) immediately retires, and Greg has a setback. We've had some bad luck … I have felt that way all along. Greg going down, Joel (Przybilla) going down … you try to look at what you're doing to see if that is factoring into those situations. I don't think it has.
Tribune: So will you make changes in how you prepare with your players, or practice, or in the medical staff?
McMillan: You're always looking, but no, there will be no changes in our medical staff. They've done what they needed to do the whole time, and they've done a good job. We've just had some bad luck.
Tribune: You're in your seventh season at the Blazer helm. What are your expectations with this team?
McMillan: They get higher every year. The longer you're with the team, the more you're supposed to do. That's my feeling going in. We have to do better than what we did last season, show some improvement this year.
Tribune: What specifically would that be?
McMillan: Our first goal is to win (the Northwest) Division. If you can do that, you go from there.