Blazers Move Forward Again
Portland learns from its latest setback.
by Wendell Maxey
Right before Nate McMillan took the head coaching job in Portland back in the summer of 2005, his wife told him he needed a challenge.
Pretty sure McMillan didn’t have this kind of test in mind.
Minutes after Portland beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night at the Rose Garden — for the ninth-straight time — Brandon Roy stood knee deep in a media moshpit talking about going for his against Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest. As voice recorders and video cameras rolled with Roy, Andre Miller dressed slowly on the other side of the locker room making small talk with Hersey Hawkins, the Blazers’ director of player personnel.
“Man, doesn’t anyone want to talk to this man right here?” Hawkins said softly to no one in particular about Miller.
“He had a great game.”
Still, the present wasn’t what was on many people’s minds when it came to Miller.
After nearly two days of talking about his verbal sparring match at practice with McMillan, Miller very easily could have put up a wall between himself and the recent past. He could have said, “No comment”, to all questions volleyed his way. He could have stayed hush as the man himself. But that’s not Miller’s style. It’s really not.
Instead, the quiet veteran point guard spoke openly and honestly about the chance to finally get back to basketball and move forward.
“Some guys aren’t mature enough and professional enough to handle it the right way,” said Miller, gazing at the floor in search of the right words.
“We’re moving on as coaches and players. It happens. We are true professionals. Everything is fine. The main thing is the communication. That kind of stuff happens with every team. It’s a player’s business. It’s how you handle it afterward.
“That’s like a basketball game when you get into it with a teammate and then get on the right track. Whether you lose or win, you put that behind you and move on to the next game. That’s how I look at the situation.”
Consider this a new start to the season in some ways for Portland.
If anything, it’s a healthy chance for Portland to progress from yet another dramatic setback. With all the injuries the Blazers have endured heading into the season and the past couple months – from Patty Mills, to Jeff Pendergraph, Travis Outlaw, Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Joel Przybilla, LaMarcus Aldridge, Steve Blake, and even McMillan himself — the last thing Portland needs to suffer from right now are any bruised egos.
“What I know has happened is, we had two people sit down and have meaningful dialogue,” explained General Manager Kevin Pritchard about McMillan and Miller clearing the air.
“Honest truth — and I told them both this — they are a little bit alike. They are both a little stubborn. I like that they are both tough. Today, we are a better team for it. It’s better than sweeping everything under the table. We are a family and we’re not perfect. Sometimes you have issues. Some are big and some are little. We all have issues. Any team in this league that doesn’t have issues, that’s silly.”
About an hour before tipoff with the Lakers, McMillan sat in his office clearly wanting to talk about anything other than what had transpired at practice on Thursday. And who can blame him? He’d already spoken and apologized to his team earlier in the day. McMillan feels he should have controlled the situation better and maintained he wasn’t going to discuss the matter further.
Then he decided to really put the story to bed.
“Get your pens ready. You ready?” McMillan said seriously to a handful of reporters.
“I love my players. My relationship with my players is important. I had some say in bringing Andre Miller here, so to assume I have an issue is – no, no. There is no issue. Everyone on this roster, I had some say in bringing here and keeping here. I’m okay with all my players. There are no issues.”
Portland won the opening tip against Los Angeles on Friday night. Typically, the first play of the game is automatic for the Blazers in their offensive scheme: dump it in down low to Aldridge on the block and let him go to work. That wasn’t the case though. The first play was drawn up for Miller, who took a backdoor pass from Juwan Howard in for a right handed layup.
And with that single play, Portland officially moved forward knowing they’ll need Miller to accompany Brandon Roy if the Blazers plan on making a playoff push.
“We still have a long way to go,” Miller added afterward.
On this night, Miller played his style of game on his way to finishing with 17 points and 7 assists. He pushed the break, backed down Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown in the post, hit his two-handed-like set shot with a soft touch, and connected smoothly with Brandon Roy on a couple of occasions in the open floor.
It’s just what Portland – who continues to battle Denver for the lead in the Northwest Division — thought they’d see between Roy and Miller this season. Now they hope they’ll see more.
“With Andre, it’s going to take time. We just need to get a feel for what one another does. It just comes with time and we’ve been getting that lately,” said Roy, who finished with 32 points in the win.
By the time Roy talked about how he and Miller could build more chemistry on the floor, Andre was long gone from the locker room. He’s usually the first one to ghost. But had he stuck around to actually hear Roy’s take, he easily would have nodded his head in agreement.
“The hardest thing is to get people to relax and I understand that, we have a lot of time. They have to be patient, and we have to be patient – me (Miller) and him,” Roy continued.
That’s one virtue everyone in Portland should welcome.
Wendell Maxey is a freelance writer in Portland and has covered the NBA for the past six years. Featured on FOXSports.com and NBA.com, Wendell can be read more at www.beyondthebeat.net.