- The Atlanta Hawks have removed the ‘interim’ tag and hired Nate McMillan as their permanent head coach.
- Atlanta turned their season around and improbably reached the Eastern Conference Finals after McMillan took over.
- The current deal between the Hawks and McMillan is for four seasons.
The Atlanta Hawks have been a doormat for the past few seasons. In the COVID truncated 2020-2021 season they finished 20-47, 33 games behind Eastern Conference top dog Milwaukee. In 2018-2019, they finished 29-53 which was a marginal improvement over their 2017-2018 mark of 24-58. That’s why it wasn’t a huge surprise when Atlanta found themselves 14-20 on March 1 and stuck in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Not much different was expected when the Hawks pink slipped Lloyd Pierce and named Nate McMillan as the interim head coach. McMillan was a perfect choice for a ‘caretaker’ role–he spent the previous 16 seasons as a NBA head coach with the Seattle SuperSonics (remember them?), Portland Trailblazers and Indiana Pacers.
It might not have appeared that way at the time but McMillan’s elevation to the big chair changed everything. The Hakws went 27-11 the rest of the way to finish 41-31 the rest of the way and lock up the East’s 5th playoff seed. In the playoffs, they served notice as a team of the future led by budding superstar Trae Young as they eliminated the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were ousted in six games. Given that Young was sidelined for much of the Milwaukee series this was an extremely impressive run. As a reward for his efforts, the Atlanta Hawks have removed the ‘interim’ title from McMillan naming him the 30th full time head coach in franchise history dating back to their previous incarnations in the Tri-Cities, Milwaukee and St. Louis.
Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk said that he and McMillan agreed to ‘talk at the end of the season’ at the time of the coaching change. With the Hawks now out of the playoffs he wasted no time in sealing a deal:
“From the first day when he took over as interim head coach, we both made the decision we were going to get to the end of the season before we talked. The season obviously ended the other day, and we started talking to his agents yesterday and came to a deal this morning.”
“We’ve now worked together for four months. We’ve had a good working relationship, and I’m excited he’s going to be our head coach moving forward.”
The deal is for four years with terms otherwise not disclosed. McMillan is extremely thankful of his new opportunity:
“It’s truly a blessing,” McMillan said of getting the opportunity in Atlanta after the Hawks lost Game 6 to the Bucks on Saturday night. “A lot of my family members and friends and my pastor … you talk about when one door closes, another door opens. I didn’t expect this to happen, but it did.”
“It’s just a blessing. It really was a blessing. I really didn’t look back on what had happened last season. My focus was on, once I got this opportunity, to come down and try to help first Coach Pierce, and then when the opportunity presented itself for me to coach this team, to try to make it better.”
“That was just the focus this entire season, trying to make it better here for this organization. It really was a blessing. I thank God for all the opportunities and the blessings that have been provided to me this year.”
Despite a 16 year NBA head coaching resume this was the first time that a McMillan coached team had reached the Conference Finals. He admits that he’s become much more patient with young players as he’s matured:
“Yes, I’ve become a lot more patient than I’ve been. I’ve had a few friends and a few people say, ‘Old School Nate would have done this or done that or would have responded or reacted in this way.'”
“I’ve been patient. I’ve grown for myself tremendously with this group. And I say that because I’ve allowed these guys to be themselves. Sometimes you try to create a culture and it’s kind of your way or the highway.”
“This season it was more adapting to the players and how they learn and different ways to keep them motivated and lifted. So I’ve become a lot more patient with players, with the game, with myself. I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it this season.”
The challenge now falls on GM Schlenk. It’s one thing to try to put together a capable team with no expectations of success. It’s another thing entirely to build a roster capable of competing deep into the playoffs. He admits that his approach to his job will have to change somewhat:
“Maybe a little bit. I was joking, we had another draft workout this morning, and I was talking with one of the guys and they were talking about a particular player and I was like, ‘He can’t help us beat Milwaukee.’
“So it does change a little bit. … We’re excited about the direction we’re on, and we don’t want to take steps back. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I anticipate us making deep playoff runs every year because there’s different things that go into that. But we want to continue to stay competitive moving forward in the league.”
Entering the 2020-2021 NBA season the Hawks were priced at +10000 to win the NBA Championship. In the recently posted futures odds for the 2021-2022 their stock has improved dramatically as they’re now +3000 to win the crown.