San Antonio Spurs should pursue former Pacers coach Nate McMillan
By Ethan Farina
The San Antonio Spurs should pursue the former head coach of the Pacers
The average tenancy of an NBA head coach is remarkably short. A 2019 SB Nation article had it at just under 4 years, which, according to their calculations, was the highest it had been in at least a decade. In this regard more than others, San Antonio Spurs fans are historically spoiled.
Not only have we been able to enjoy over two decades of consecutive playoff appearances, but we’ve also gotten to do so under one of the most stable coaching situations in the league. The two go hand in hand, the playoff streak would not have been possible without Gregg Popovich. Pop would be the first to tell you that he had nothing to do with it, that all the credit should go to the players, but he was instrumental in the organization’s continued success.
Such longstanding success is not without consequences. The Spurs bench is regularly raided by other organizations that are seeking to capture a bit of the Spurs magic. Get all the NBA head coaches into a room and you wouldn’t be able to turn your head without seeing a few who have worked under Popovich at some point or another.
At some point, Popovich is going to retire, and the Spurs should be preparing for this eventuality. Hiring the recently fired Nate McMillan would be a great place to start.
Nate McMillan would be a great addition to the San Antonio Spurs bench
After leading the Indiana Pacers to four straight playoff appearances, McMillan was fired earlier this week. The move came as a surprise as McMillan had just signed a soft extension with the team earlier this year.
The firing was a bit unfair. It’s true that McMillan had led Indiana to four straight first-round exits but that’s still a pretty solid run of success for a small market team. And they had done it while dealing with severe injuries to Victor Oladipo last year and Domantas Sabonis this year. It’s not like they were losing to chump teams either. Their loss to the Miami Heat this year, while disappointing, was against one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.
McMillan could step in right away and help the Spurs in an area where they’re desperate to improve. Over his tenure with the Pacers, he gradually helped them grow into one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. A stark contrast to the Spurs who have, over the last few years, slid from being one of the best defenses in the league to one of the worst.
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During the 2019-19 season, Indiana gave up the fewest points per game in the NBA and had the 3rd best defense rating. This year they ranked 3rd and 6th in those categories. Conversely, San Antonio ranked 25th in the league in both points allowed per game and defensive rating this year.
With hungry and willing defenders in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, and Jakob Poeltl the Spurs have the personnel to be one of the better defensive units in the NBA. Maybe they just need a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective to make it come to life.
Hiring McMillan wouldn’t necessarily have to be a Popovich succession plan. San Antonio has Becky Hammon and Will Hardy for that. But those two have also appeared on watch lists for various other open NBA coaching positions and eventually an offer might come around that’s too good for them to pass up.
McMillan should get another head coaching job at some point. If he wants to sit back and enjoy some free time while waiting for that to happen, more power to him. But if not, if he wants to add a little more experience to an already impressive resume, helping reform the Spurs defense while learning from one of the best coaches in NBA history wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Personally, I think the Pacers made a mistake in firing McMillan. There aren’t many available coaches in the league who are better than him. But their mistake can be the San Antonio Spurs benefit if there’s mutual interest between the Spurs and the former Pacers head coach.