Column: McMillan regains control, provides Pritchard with cover

You just cannot shake Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan.

You can try. Play head games with his general manager. Take away two key longtime assistants during a summer of change.

But it is pointless. McMillan is the rock in the middle of the ocean. Everything else is just water.

“There’s no one better than Nate McMillan if you’re going to go get into the trenches,” Pritchard said.

Right now, some of the biggest names who have helped Rip City burn bright again in recent years are in the trenches.

With 2010 NBA Draft just six days away, Pritchard is fighting off fate and rumor with a 24/7 Blackberry. Key scouts Michael Born and Chad Buchanan are balancing friendship and loyalty against longevity and financial security. Meanwhile, assistant coaches Dean Demopoulos and Joe Prunty will likely soon be walking beneath a glowing red exit sign, casualties of increased expectations.

But for McMillan, everything remains the same. Even as the scenery changes. Even as close friends — former assistants Monty Williams and Maurice Lucas — are replaced by new co-workers.

“That’s a big part of your staff,” McMillan said. “So, now what I have to do is balance this roster of coaches to try and make it as strong as possible again. Not only to help me, but to help my players.”

Balance has been and still is everything for McMillan. The effort to always be smooth and even. The idea that an uncertain future can only be answered by remaining grounded and working in the present. And while McMillan exudes equilibrium during a period of reorganization, the no-longer-baby Blazers keep moving forward.

“We are not this young team or this team that is developing anymore,” McMillan said. “There’s another step; a next level that we’re trying to get to.”

McMillan is guiding the growth.

Pritchard referred to McMillan as the definition of consistency. Days dissolve and everything from weather to personalities change, but McMillan is as steady as steady comes. Moreover, Portland’s coach lives life and walks the court with the bar raised so high that no one in black and red ever wants to disappoint.

Coming from a lesser man, the drilled-in routine could become tedious torture. But McMillan is the better man. And Pritchard swears it is not.

“It’s been a joy to work right next to him,” Pritchard said.

McMillan’s regimented routine is also providing Pritchard with cover.

While random, faceless draft prospects were ushered in and out of the Blazers’ practice facility this week, quick to appear and more quickly forgotten, McMillan was the man in the middle. He did not just watch from the sidelines, either. He took center stage, putting on his old point-guard costume, dishing out chest-high passes and gauging the mettle of those who want to make millions.

But McMillan did not just rate and rank them. He also loosened them up, cracking jokes that drew smiles. Surprised smiles from the supremely athletic next big things. Just as importantly: Smiles of relief and relaxation from media members who began the workouts by circling and eyeing Pritchard — as if the still-employed GM was just another soon-to-be-extinct, big-name addition to Blazers owner Paul Allen’s 22-year-old public zoo.

Soon, though, McMillan was back in control.

Pritchard walked and talked.

It was 2005-09 all over again.

At least for a few days.

Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or Read his Blazer Banter blog at Follow him on Twitter at

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