I do not contend to know Nathaniel McMillan on a personal basis. My interactions with him are clearly limited to his role as head coach, and we’ve never shared a conversation about anything other than NBA and the game of basketball.
He’s always been polite, professional and refreshingly candid in terms of the Indiana Pacers and how they were playing.
McMillan is also held in high regard with his peers around the NBA, so it was truly shocking when he was dismissed recently after he just received a contract extension days before his highly questionable firing.
In a manner commensurate with the class he’s always shown, he pointed no fingers at anyone on the way out and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity he had received.
The Pacers, through their rather inept President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard, stated it was simply time for a “new direction” and thanked McMillan for his accomplishments and wished him well as they shoved him out the door. If you think I’m being critical of Pritchard, well, you’re absolutely correct because after granting the aforementioned but paltry extension to his coach, he later caved to Pacers owner Herbert Simon, who felt the pathetic playoff performance by his team two years in a row warranted the firing of McMillan, who had done a remarkable job with a second-tier roster that came with a bargain basement bench and was ravaged by injuries in the last two seasons.
One must look deeper at Pritchard in this situation and wonder why he caved to an owner that knows as much about basketball as I do the highly successful shopping mall empire that he’s assembled over the past few decades, and why McMillan wasn’t evaluated fairly and objectively as opposed to the unconscionable manner that prevailed. You don’t extend the contract of an established coach and then jettison him before the ink is dry on the paperwork.
The tirade displayed by Simon can only be described as pathetic, and when you combine it with Pritchard worrying about his paycheck more than McMillan’s, you’ve got all you need to know about this sad story.
While McMillan will never say it, the Victor Oladipo situation troubled him deeply these past two years. There was the horrific injury that the gifted young man will obviously never recover fully from. McMillan grew weary of Oladipo’s antics in terms of circumventing the Pacers’ media relations department in favor of reporters to announce where he was with his rehab.
Then came Oladipo’s constant posturing for a new contract, which the Pacers have tabled for now to see if he can recover further.
Yes, life in the NBA is about injuries and how one adjusts, and the now former coach of the Pacers did a remarkable job juggling replacement lineups and getting the most out of players who weren’t slated to play significant minutes at the start of the season, and as a result, actually deserved some legitimate consideration for Coach of The Year honors.
Yes, Pritchard threw his longtime colleague under the bus that Simon is clearly driving, and in the process must now take responsibility for overpaying an underachieving Myles Turner while figuring out a way to get something in return for Oladipo. Then again, that’s what one in charge of the day-to-day player personnel matters is paid to do — you know, give their coach a roster that hopefully can compete for a league championship every year.
McMillan obviously was never given that by Pritchard and his predecessor Larry Bird. Now that a capable coach has been jilted and used as a scapegoat, it’s time to take a hard look at those who fired McMillan and evaluate their job performance.
Any objective person can see there’s a need for major changes in terms of how this team conducts business, not just how it treats coaches. This situation is bound to get uglier, but the real question is does anyone under the roof at Bankers Life Fieldhouse even have a clue?
Judging by the debacle surrounding how McMillan’s tenure ended, the obvious answer is no.
Danny Bridges who firmly believes the Indiana Pacers are now the laughing stock of the NBA, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.