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Traveling man Nate McMillan all about getting 'better'

Former Trail Blazers boss wants another NBA head coaching job, someday, somewhere


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Former Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan is visiting with other coaches to pick their brains, while taking some time off to relax.Nate McMillan isn’t coaching, but he’s not sitting idle at home in Raleigh, N.C., either.

The former Trail Blazers coach is using the 2012-13 season as a sabbatical, traveling the country to visit with NBA coaches, attend practices and gather new ideas.

“It’s a great opportunity to see what other coaches are doing,” McMillan said Monday from Dallas, where he was to attend the Mavericks' practice session. “These guys were champions just two years ago. I want to pick (Rick) Carlisle’s brain as far as what he felt won it for them then and what’s going on with them now.”

In recent months, McMillan has been to Boston to meet with Celtics coach Doc Rivers, to Denver to see mentor George Karl and to New Orleans to visit with former Portland assistant coach Monty Williams.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have some friends who have invited me to spend some time with them,” said McMillan, 48, dismissed by the Blazers after 6 1/2 seasons last March. “I’ve loved it. It’s a good opportunity meet with coaches and talk about basketball in the 21st century.”

In New Orleans, McMillan got to visit with his son, Jamelle, who is serving in a multiple capacity with Williams and the Hornets. After finishing his playing career at Arizona State in 2011, Jamelle spent a year as director of basketball operations at Drake before joining Williams.

“Jamelle is (Blazer assistant) Kaleb Canales seven or eight years ago,” the senior McMillan said. “Monty and (New Orleans general manager) Dell Demps saw him working with the Olympic team this summer and felt he would a great addition to the Hornets. They have him doing a little bit of everything — working out players, video work, scouting. He’s getting a real taste of it.”

McMillan said his second tour of duty as an assistant coach on Mike Krzyzewski’s Olympic team staff last summer was every bit as rewarding as in 2008. With no Dwight Howard or Chris Bosh, there was a dearth of size, with Tyson Chandler the team’s only true post man. That required some improvisation, as well superior athleticism and talent, to get by such teams as Lithuania and Spain en route to the gold medal.

“It was a different challenge with a different group of players this time around,” McMillan said. “We were playing small ball against some teams that had traditional big, physical centers.

“Coach K did a great job of giving the guys a goal as far as what to accomplish, getting the entire team coaching staff and everybody on board with the mission that was at hand. We knew with our style of play, we could win, but it was a matter of executing the plan. The guys did.”

It was reported McMillan interviewed for vacant head coaching jobs in Charlotte and Orlando during the offseason. He said that was not the case.

“I didn’t talk to anyone about the job in Orlando,” he said. “With Charlotte, it wasn’t so much an interview as just going down there to feel each other out.

“Brooklyn, Milwaukee and the Lakers have made moves this season, but for me, that’s really not a concern. This is about me using some time off to have an opportunity to relax a little bit, sit back, watch the league, meet with some coaches and get better.”

Five games into the season, Mike D’Antoni replaced Mike Brown as head coach of the Lakers. Reports were that D’Antoni — also a member of the U.S. Olympic team coaching staff — would hire McMillan as his chief assistant. Never a possibility, McMillan said.

“Mike and I are real good friends,” he said. “We talked during the Olympics about our futures, but my position is, I want to be a head coach in the NBA again. (An assistant’s job) is not what I’m looking for.”

McMillan knows the “when” of it won’t be his call.

“The time frame is about when you can get back in,” he said. “If it’s the right fit for me and for an organization, my time will come.”

The one-time North Carolina State standout sold his house in West Linn and is making his native Raleigh home for now. Since he left the Blazers, he has been back to Portland a few times, “to see the medical team (doctors Don Roberts and Tom Reis) and visit with some friends,” he said. He has followed the Blazers on television this season.

“I’m watching the whole league, though,” he said. “I have watched those guys some. Terry (Stotts) is doing a good job with that group.”

McMillan lavishes praise on rookie point guard Damon Lillard.

“Outstanding,” he said. “No question about the kid’s ability. He’s had a very good first half. It reminds me of Brandon (Roy), being a rookie coming in and having that type of impact right away. And the point guard is so important in the NBA. You can see what you’re going to get from that kid. They got the point guard they needed.”

As for the rest of the Blazers, McMillan understands the master plan.

“Their nucleus is strong, with LaMarcus (Aldridge), Nicolas (Batum), Wesley (Matthews) and Lillard,” he said. “They got it right with their draft picks. Mike (Born) and Chad (Buchanan), those guys do an outstanding job.

“The bench is young and needs to be developed, but the Blazers are in a good situation for the future. Now they have to hit the free-agent market and improve there, and they will.”

Under the circumstances, McMillan said, Portland’s 25-28 record is impressive.

“To be close to playing .500 ball is a good thing,” he said. “They’re not far away. When you rebuild, you don’t want to hit rock bottom if you can prevent that. They’ve been able to get through this year so far in a rebuilding mode and not hit rock bottom, and they’ll be in better position next year.

“You’re not just preparing for the coming season or the year after that. I’m sure they’re looking at the big picture. Everybody’s goal is to win it all.”

That never happened for McMillan in Portland. Beginning this summer, he’ll be looking for a new place to try to make it happen.

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