Blazers lure Chowan grad

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2005

PORTLAND, Or. – The Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday pulled off the move few people thought they could accomplish, luring Nate McMillan from Seattle to coach the team.

McMillan, the popular and successful coach of the SuperSonics since 2000, will be introduced as coach today at a 4:30 p.m. news conference at the Washington Park Amphitheater overlooking downtown Portland, according to a statement released by the Blazers on Wednesday night.

&uot;Wow. That’s unbelievable,&uot; said Dwane Casey, the new Minnesota Timberwolves coach, who served as McMillan’s top assistant for the past five seasons. &uot;I never thought he would leave Seattle.&uot;

Blazers forward Ruben Patterson, who played one season in Seattle under McMillan, said the move &uot;makes my day.&uot;

&uot;I think that’s a good thing Portland did to get a coach like Nate to come down there. I mean, we have to change something,&uot; Patterson said. &uot;I was getting frustrated with everything that was going on there, wanting to get out, get traded. Now that he’s there, I’m happy as can be.&uot;

McMillan succeeds interim coach Kevin Pritchard, who coached the final 27 games after the Blazers fired Maurice Cheeks on March 2.

It is a stunning hire in that Macmillan leaves a Sonics team that won the Northwest Division and a playoff series for a Blazers team that finished with the sixth-worst record in the NBA. Also, McMillan leaves a Sonics team that this week re-signed guard Ray Allen, one of the game’s top stars, for a Blazers team that is rebuilding and whose roster averages 23.5 years.

McMillan comes to Portland with a reputation as a disciplinarian who wields his power through distribution of playing time. His conviction will be tested with a Blazers team that is young and, at times, unruly. Last season, forward Darius Miles was suspended two games for cursing at then-coach Cheeks and forward Zach Randolph at times pouted about being taken out of games.

&uot;The thing about Nate is he doesn’t take anything from anyone, and that’s what we need in Portland,&uot; Patterson said.

The Sonics lost McMillan after the sides were involved in a season long contract dispute. He entered the season in the last year of his contract, and the Sonics wouldn’t endorse an extension, even as he was engineering one of the surprise stories of the NBA season — leading the Sonics to a 52-30 record and the Northwest Division title.

The Sonics reopened contract talks after the team lost to San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals, but McMillan reportedly was insulted by the terms, reported by Seattle newspapers to be around $4.5 million a year.

Casey said whatever the Blazers agreed to pay him, McMillan is worth every penny.

&uot;He is an excellent, excellent basketball coach,&uot; Casey said. &uot;He is going to build a team, and I emphasize team.&uot;

McMillan, who turns 41 in August, has the unique reputation of being a disciplinarian and a players’ coach.

&uot;I think he’s a throwback coach,&uot; Casey said. &uot;He’s where old school meets new school because he hasn’t been so far removed from the game that he has forgotten what it’s like.&uot;

McMillan had deep roots in the Seattle community. He played 12 seasons for the Sonics, and his No. 10 jersey is retired and hanging in the KeyArena rafters. With his 17-year association with Seattle, McMillan was known as &uot;Mr. Sonic&uot; in Seattle.

One factor in McMillan’s decision could be the proximity of Portland. His son, Jamelle, is a standout basketball player who will be a junior in high school this fall, and McMillan thinks he can keep his residence in Seattle while coaching in Portland.

Seattle native Martell Webster, who was selected by the Blazers with the No. 6 pick in last week’s draft, played AAU basketball with McMillan’s son this summer and said he wholeheartedly endorses the move.

&uot;My utmost and honest opinion is this is great,&uot; Webster said. &uot;I saw him a lot and I got to talk to him a lot, so I know Nate personally and I think he is a great coach and a great person, too.&uot;

McMillan has a 212-183 record (.537) as a coach. His reputation is as a defense-oriented coach, but one who also likes to play a fast tempo on offense — a style the Blazers have said they would like to implement this season.

&uot;He’s a great guy,&uot; Patterson said. &uot;When I was in Seattle, he taught me a lot. Just having him as coach will make me feel better as a person and a player.&uot;

McMillan, a native of Raleigh, was an All-American basketball player at Chowan College, helping to lead Bob Burke’s Braves to the Final Four of the 1984 NJCAA National Tournament. He finished his collegiate career at NC State University and was drafted by the SuperSonics.