With Phil Jackson on board as a consultant, the Detroit Pistons and general manager Joe Dumars are searching for their next head coach. And they have already interviewed the man who is the best fit for the job, Nate McMillan.
McMillan, the former Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers head coach, last coached in the NBA in 2012. Much like the situation he would be coming into in Detroit, McMillan has been part of a successful rebuilding process.
He has taken five teams to the playoffs, and has been an assistant coach on two U.S. Olympic teams. His previous coaching experience is just what the Pistons should be looking for in their next head coach.
In 2005, McMillan took over a Blazers team that was in the midst of a massive overhaul. They won just 21 games during his first season with the team, the fewest in the NBA.
With McMillan's coaching stability and an influx of young talent, the Blazers steadily improved. They won 32 games in 2006-07, 41 in 07-08 and 54 in 08-09.
He was able to have that success by improving them incrementally each season. The 05-06 Blazers ranked dead-last in offensive rating but they improved in each of the next three seasons. They went from 20th (2006-07) to 14th (2007-08) to the top-rated offense in 2008-09. Their defensive rating improved each season as well, as they jumped from 28th to 13th over that same span.
The current Pistons are further along in the rebuilding process than the Blazers roster that McMillan joined, but they are eerily similar to the 06-07 'Blazers:
2006-07 Blazers (32-50)
- 94.1 points per game (29th)
- 98.4 points against (14th)
- 105.1 offensive rating (20th)
- 109.9 defensive rating (26th)
2012-13 Pistons (29-53)
- 94.9 points per game (22nd)
- 98.8 points against (18th)
- 103.8 offensive rating (21st)
- 108.1 defensive rating (24th)
This doesn't mean that McMillan would take the Pistons and turn them into a .500 team next season. He did have Brandon Roy's fantastic rookie season helping him out in Portland.
However, it does show that McMillan has been previously successful in a situation much like the Pistons' current one. And while they likely won't find the next Roy this summer, they will have a lottery pick and cap space to improve their roster.
Like most teams in a rebuilding process, McMillan coached a very young group of players in his first few years in Portland. What he did that was most impressive was to develop that young core into a winning team.
In the 2008-09 season, McMillan won 54 games with a roster that had no player over 30 that played more than 35 minutes all season. Of the 11 players who played significant minutes, only three were even 25 years old.
The Pistons are in a position to be just like that Blazers team. Their best player, Greg Monroe, is just 22. Their past two lottery picks, Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight, are 19 and 21, respectively. Whoever they draft in June will make a fourth core player 22 or younger.
McMillan's success with an extremely young group of players, and his willingness to play them, makes him a unique candidate.
With Monroe and Drummond, the Pistons have one of the best young frontcourt duos in the NBA. As they continue to develop, their size will be a major advantage over a majority of the NBA, especially as many teams experiment with small-ball lineups.
That being said, the Pistons will need to maximize that advantage as much as possible. Running a slow-paced offense through the post will fit them best; the Pistons won't win many track meets as presently assembled.
McMillan often ran his offense through a young LaMarcus Aldridge with the Blazers, and they had the most efficient offense in the NBA in 08-09.
In fact, the Blazers were among the three slowest-playing teams in the league each season McMillan coached in Portland.
As long as Monroe and Drummond are in Detroit, they will need a coach that is willing to play at a slow pace. Other teams with great big-man duos, such as Memphis, Indiana and Chicago, are all among the slowest-playing in the league.
McMillan has been an assistant for the U.S. Olympic basketball team under Mike Krzyzewski since 2006, now having coached in the last two Olympics.
Not only will that experience be extremely valuable to him in his growth as a coach, but it could make the Pistons a more attractive destination for top free agents.
This doesn't mean that LeBron James will be rushing to sign in Detroit next summer, but there were almost 40 players on the U.S. Olympic roster from 2010-12. This summer there are several players the Pistons could target in free agency that have played for the U.S., including Andre Iguodala, O.J. Mayo and Tyreke Evans.
Whether it is this summer or in the future, McMillan's Olympic relationships could help the Pistons bring in a major free agent. His coaching, coupled with a young and talented roster, would make Detroit a fairly attractive place to play basketball.
McMillan has more experience than any other prospective coach who has interviewed with the Pistons, and he is the only one to have successfully undergone a rebuilding process. His style of basketball would fit the Pistons very well, and he has proven to be successful in the NBA before.
The Pistons need to not over-think their coaching search and offer Nate McMillan a contract, before another organization beats them to it.
*All statistics via basketball-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.