Nate McMillan reluctantly agreed to serve as the Atlanta Hawks’ interim coach and only accepted the position after conferring with Lloyd Pierce following Pierce’s firing on Monday.
Even then, McMillan didn’t rest easy. He immediately felt the burden of his increased responsibility.
“The sleepless nights have already started,” McMillan said Tuesday. “I didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.”
McMillan said before his debut as interim coach in Tuesday night’s game at Miami — a game the Hawks won 94-80 — that he initially wasn’t interested when Hawks president Travis Schlenk extended the offer to serve as interim coach.
McMillan, who was fired last year following four seasons as the Indiana Pacers coach, said he wasn’t looking for another opportunity to lead a team when he agreed to serve on Pierce’s staff.
Even as others saw McMillan as the logical successor for Pierce, he had other ideas. He didn’t expect Pierce to be fired and wasn’t ready to take over the Hawks.
“The thought process at first was that wasn’t something I really was going to do, because it was really a surprise to me,” McMillan said. “When I spoke with Travis about that I told him that wasn’t what I came here for.”
Pierce helped to convince McMillan to accept the interim job.
“We had a conversation about the team and the move … and he just felt he didn’t think this would happen but he felt I could step in and do a good job with the team,” McMillan said. “He basically felt I should take this opportunity.”
So about three hours after announcing Pierce had been fired, the Hawks named McMillan as interim coach later Monday.
McMillan, 56, played 12 years in the NBA with Seattle and has logged 16 seasons, posting a 661-588 record, as a head coach with Seattle, Portland and Indiana. Even with so much experience, he was caught off-guard by the unexpected opportunity to revive the Hawks’ disappointing season.
He wasn’t ready to talk about the possibility of being more than an interim coach in Atlanta.
“I’m going to take this — and you guys are going to hear me say this as much as you ask — one game at a time,” he said. “I’m focused on tonight’s game, not tomorrow’s game. So far as the future and what I’m looking for, I really haven’t thought about that. There was no conversation about that with Travis and I.”
The Hawks are 15-20 and 11th in the Eastern Conference (a game out of the play-in games). Schlenk said he believes McMillan is the right choice to revive the season.
“I think Nate’s resume speaks for itself,” Schlenk said Monday. “I have a ton of confidence in Nate moving forward.”
Atlanta was expected to end its three-year playoff drought this season. Pierce was limited by injuries which forced De'Andre Hunter, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and others to miss extended stretches of games. One offseason addition, Kris Dunn, still has not played this season.
McMillan said he believes the Hawks have enough talent to make it to the playoffs.
“I think we are capable of doing some good things here,” McMillan said. “We certainly need to get healthy, but yes. … We’ve just got to show that growth, show that improvement and get it done.”
McMillan said he won’t have an opportunity before this week’s All-Star break to make any significant changes. He wouldn’t say what moves he plans to make but said he still believes in the team.
He also said he still believes in Pierce.
“I’m a believer in coach Pierce,” he said. “He sold me on his plan and I wanted to be on board to come down and try to help him make a difference.”