McMillan shakes up starters

  • RICH MYHRE / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, November 28, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By RICH MYHRE

Herald Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. – New Seattle SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan wasted no time giving the team a fresh look.

McMillan, named to replace Paul Westphal on Monday, shuffled his starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Moved to the bench were forward Vin Baker, who had started all of the team’s 15 games this season, and guard/forward Ruben Patterson, who had started the past seven games.

In their places were forward Jelani McCoy and guard Emanual Davis. Both players were making their first starts of the season.

The removal of Baker, a four-time NBA All-Star and a 2000 U.S. Olympian, is a bold statement by McMillan that reputation and contract status will be secondary to effort and performance under the new coaching staff. Baker has struggled since the 1999 lockout-shortened season and his disappointing contributions, offensively and defensively, were an ongoing frustration for Westphal.

“Vin is an All-Star,” McMillan said before Tuesday’s game. “He’s a solid power forward, an Olympian. We want him to make this transition work, and I think he will. I think he’ll respond to it.”

In his two-plus seasons as coach, Westphal alternated coaxing, encouraging, threatening and benching Baker with no discernible benefits. McMillan’s approach will apparently be more straightforward.

“I’ve told guys, the bottom line is that I’m not going to be dealing with agents,” McMillan said. “Or maybe you’re (in the last year of your contract) and you want to get rewarded. Or you need extra shots because you’re not getting enough attempts. The bottom line is that if you practice hard and if you show that you want to play and you are understanding of what we’re trying to do and you make an effort to get it done, then we’ll get you some minutes on the floor.”

McMillan knows that some players may have trouble making the adjustment.

“To them, not starting is huge,” he said. “They can’t understand, ‘You’re cutting my minutes, you’re taking me out of the lineup.’ But that’s a sacrifice they have to learn. They have to buy into it.”

Before Tuesday’s game, a reserved Baker said he would do his best to adjust to the new assignment.

“Whatever role I have to assume, I’m just going to play as hard as I can,” he said. “I have no control over it. It’s Nate’s decision and I just have to live with it. I’m not going to go out and play any less hard whether I’m announced first or coming in from the bench.”

A year ago, Westphal benched Baker for four games. The move was meant to motivate Baker, though there was no appreciable improvement in his performances.

“It was hard (last year),” Baker admitted. “I’m a proven starter in this league. But so many things have happened in the past 24 hours, I just have to embrace this. That’s just something I have to do. If I get down, it’s just going to add more fuel that doesn’t need to be added to the fire. I’m just going to go out and play and see what happens.

“Of course, I’d rather be starting as opposed to coming off the bench,” he said. “But that’s his decision and I just have to live with it. … I feel like I’m an excellent player in this league. I feel like I have a presence on the floor. They’ll make that judgment, but I’m just going to do everything that I do normally.”

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