Jacob Eisenberg explains why Nate McMillan is the perfect candidate to rescue the Washington Wizards from their hapless start…
Despite the Washington Wizards’ early season struggles, the team’s players have been loyal to their coach. Rookie Bradley Beal went on record on November 25th to say, “We’re all buying into [Coach Randy Wittman]. We love him to death. He wants the best for us.”
Unfortunately, Beal’s statement is a paradox: what would be best for the Wizards would be to move on from the Randy Wittman era and to start buying into a new head coach.
Although Randy Wittman should not receive all of the blame to Washington’s horrendous start, there is absolutely no reason why the Wizards should be winless this late in the season. Even without John Wall, this team is talented enough to compete in the league. By all means, the Wizards’ situation is salvageable under a new head coach.
As evidenced in Los Angeles, it is never too early in the season to fire a coach. Since Mike Brown’s firing, the Lakers have completely turned their year around. Since starting 1-4 and firing Brown, the Lakers have gone 6-3. As NBA history suggests, shaking up a losing atmosphere can rarely hurt the team’s situation. More importantly, shaking up a winless atmosphere can never hurt the team’s situation.
As for why firing Randy Wittman now would make sense, here are several things to consider:
• John Wall is just about ready to comeback from injury but cannot be relied on to save the franchise alone. However, if Wall’s return was supplemented with a new leader in the locker room, the additions could spark a serious turnaround with the Wizards’ confidence and approach on the court.
• At 0-12 and with Wittman in charge, the Wizards have lost in the closing minutes of several games this season. With a new coach, the team would regain necessary fourth quarter confidence to close out tight games.
• With a team as young and unsuccessful as the Wizards, it is necessary to have a coach with experience and patience in regards to rebuilding the team.
• Most importantly, how often is it that a defensive mastermind with Olympic experience is available for hire at a reasonable price?
Enter Nate McMillan.
As a player, McMillan was a defensive specialist and two-time All-NBA defender in the ’80s and ’90s. As a coach, McMillan’s resume has been even more impressive. From turning the dormant SuperSonics of the early 2000s into playoff contenders to rescuing Portland from its “Jail Blazer” era, McMillan has rightfully earned the respect he garners from many of the NBA’s best. Moreover, McMillan’s two gold medals as Mike Krzyzewski’s defensive specialist on the Team USA coaching staff suggest he is one of the best leaders in basketball today.
The only reason why McMillan is unemployed is because Murphy’s Law lingered in Portland throughout his tenure with the Trail Blazers.
After being hired in 2005 by a Portland organization coming out of an era burdened by bad attitudes and excessive incarcerations, McMillan restored the franchise and brought the team to three consecutive playoff appearances. Unfortunately, McMillan’s Trail Blazers legacy will be best remembered for the team’s unreached potential due to untimely injuries.
In 2008, the Trail Blazers were supposed to be what the Oklahoma City Thunder have become in 2012: a team that rises through timely draft picks and frugal free agent spending. With a trio of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, and Lamarcus Aldridge, all whom were drafted by Portland and under the age of 25, the Blazers were supposed to dominate the Western Conference for years to come. Unfortunately, things did not turn out that way.
Brandon Roy, now 28, was forced to retire from the NBA in 2011 after battling aching kneesthroughout his career. Greg Oden, the league’s number one pick in 2008 and projected once-in-a-lifetime talent, was limited to a total of 82 games over his four year career due to a series of injuries. Oden, now 24, has been out of the league for over a year and is a self-admitted recovering alcoholic. Jerryd Bayless, the team’s intended “point guard of the future”, disappointed severely in his two years with the team and is now a backup in Memphis. Today, only Lamarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum remain from the Blazer’s once-promising era.
McMillan’s disappointing time in Portland culminated when several of his players formed a mutinyagainst him last March. Just a day after McMillan’s team embarrassed him in one of the most lopsided games of the season, McMillan was fired.
McMillan’s disastrous end in Portland overshadowed just how successful he was in turning the Trail Blazers around. In Portland, McMillan took over a lottery team and patiently guided them toward respectability and postseason contention.
For a Wizards team comprised with a solid blend of veterans and talented prospects, McMillan could be the perfect candidate to patiently lead the team out of mediocrity.
Most importantly for a Washington team featuring John Wall and Bradley Beal, McMillan’s track record for developing young guards makes him an ideal candidate for the job. From mentoring a young Gary Payton on the court as teammates in Seattle to coaching Ray Allen and Brandon Roy in the early years of their careers, McMillan has always been successful at getting through to young talent.
With the Wizards having committed gobs of money to the team’s veterans for the next several years, it seems unlikely that they will be able to improve through free agency any time soon. With this in mind, the team will need to maximize the talent they have in-house in as efficient a way as possible to substantially progress. With a proven maximizer of talent and an experienced leader, waiting by the phone for an job offer, a call from the nation’s capital could not come soon enough.
Originally published on The Fan Manifesto for the week of December 28th, 2012.