The Los Angeles Lakers roster underwent major changes this offseason, and now, the coaching staff is being adjusted to try and fit the new personnel. Bringing in Mike D’Antoni will help the offense, and the Lakers now need Nate McMillan to get the defense playing at a high level.
The most surprising news of this NBA season came when the Lakers fired Mike Brown just five games into the season. But the L.A. brass topped the shock factor of that decision by hiring D’Antoni when Phil Jackson was available and interested in the job, as he said in a statement (via The New York Daily News).
The Los Angeles Times’ T.J. Simers has since interviewed D’Antoni, and reported the following about his future plans for the staff:
"He hasn't talked to defensive-minded coach Nate McMillan, but he says he intends to this summer, although he wouldn’t be surprised if McMillan is head coach by that time elsewhere."
McMillan has spent 12 seasons as a head coach with both the Seattle SuperSonics and the Portland Trail Blazers, but has had average results at best. He made the playoffs just five times and reached the second round only once.
During his head-coaching career, he amassed a 478-452 record, giving him a winning percentage of .514.
But the reason to bring him onto the Lakers staff is his knowledge of defense. As a player, McMillan was a defensive ace, being named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team twice in his career.
As a coach, the results have again been less than impressive. As ESPN’s Henry Abbot notes, the average rank of McMillan’s team was 21st in the league.
These numbers call into question McMillan’s bona fides as a defensive specialist, and they clearly show that he is not Tom Thibodeau.
But this does not mean he is not an excellent fit for the team. The defensive statistics for his teams show that he is an unexceptional head coach who had mediocre teams, more than suggesting a lack of knowledge about how to play effective defense in the NBA.
If D’Antoni does hire him after this season, he will be an assistant who can focus solely on one end of the floor, and he will have Dwight Howard, who is the best defensive player in the NBA.
McMillan’s capability as a defensive assistant was made clear when he was picked by Mike Krzyzewski to help with the USA Olympic team.
This gives him a familiarity with D’Antoni, who was also an assistant, as well as Howard and Kobe Bryant. It also shows that one of the most respected coaches in all of basketball believes in his ability to have a positive impact on a team’s ability to play defense.
McMillan may not be the most brilliant defensive mind in the coaching world, but he certainly is knowledgeable and experienced. His skills as a coach would be perfect for this Lakers roster.