McMillan working on Sonics’ mindset

  • RICH MYHRE / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, November 29, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By RICH MYHRE

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – There were flower bouquets at the reception desk, a stack of congratulatory telephone messages in his office, and a big grin on his boss’s face.

Yep, all in all, victory No. 1 in Nate McMillan’s NBA coaching career was mighty satisfying for the new Seattle SuperSonics skipper.

“It’s been unbelievable,” McMillan said Wednesday, one day after the Sonics handed him a 105-93 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in his debut game. “I’m hearing from family, my North Carolina State coach, my junior college coach, my longtime friends from way back, and they all can’t believe it. Even my brother can’t.

“We all know where I came from,” he said with a slightly dazed grin, “and now I’m an NBA head coach.”

McMillan was promoted from assistant coach to Seattle’s top job on Monday, the day Paul Westphal was fired after the team slumped to a 6-9 start. In his inaugural practice Monday afternoon and again before Tuesday’s game, McMillan emphasized the philosophy that will guide his coaching decisions. It was the same message he voiced on Wednesday.

“The bottom line is you play and produce when you’re in there,” he said. “If you’re producing and we take you out, we’ll put you back in. … Win, lose or draw, all I’m concerned about is the effort. If we get the effort, the winning will come.

“We have a lot of work to do to improve our mindset more than anything,” McMillan added. “We have to think positive. It’s like we told them today, ‘Don’t get tired of doing things to perfection. Don’t get tired of things working.’ You improve by making it better.”

McMillan showed he will not be shy about making changes, dropping forward Vin Baker and guard/forward Ruben Patterson from the starting lineup against the Blazers. Forward Jelani McCoy and guard Emanual Davis were moved to the first team – joining Gary Payton, Rashard Lewis and Patrick Ewing – and that lineup will stay intact until further notice, McMillan said.

For now, he went on, Baker (a four-time NBA All-Star and a 2000 U.S. Olympian) will be the primary backup to Ewing. Westphal had come to realize, as McMillan does now, that neither Baker nor Ewing is particularly agile or quick. Together, they are a too-slow tandem.

“We want a quick lineup out there,” McMillan said. “We may go big at times, but I think Jelani can bring some things. … He’s a solid forward with young legs and we need him. We need him big time.”

Moreover, he said, “it’s tough to distribute the ball when you have three All-Stars on the floor at the same time. Somebody is going to feel left out. Patrick and Vin are both big guys, and I just think we’ll be a much more effective team with one of those guys starting and the other coming off the bench.

“The way we’ve set this thing up, Vin is our go-to guy on the second unit,” McMillan said.

McMillan seems to have decided on a nine-man rotation, with Baker, Patterson, Brent Barry and Shammond Williams being the primary subs off the bench, with rookie Desmond Mason perhaps getting occasional playing time, too. Minutes will vary based on performances and game factors. Or as McMillan said, “We’re going to go by feel.”

Baker seems stung by the demotion to the bench, but the other Sonics seem accepting of the changes. Particularly after Tuesday’s stirring win over Portland.

“Guys are getting a new start with a new coach,” Davis said. “Basically, no one is ahead of the next guy. Everybody is coming in with an equal opportunity to play, to get it done on the practice court, and get some minutes on the floor.”

Meanwhile, the boss had one of many smiling faces at Wednesday’s workout.

“It was a great effort,” team president Wally Walker said. “Defensively, we challenged every shot. You could hardly think of a (Portland) shot where we didn’t have a hand up to contest it. The rotations were crisp, and I loved the running and the energy. You have to give Nate tremendous credit, and the other coaches.

“You don’t want to extrapolate too much after one game. We’ll see how it goes, but to do that against a good team like Portland, it just looked like right and it felt right,” Walker said.

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