“Good conversation,” McMillan said of a recent discussion he had with Larry Bird. “Just talked about the season and a little bit about what we would like to do this offseason.”
The fact that the two men conversed about plans for “this offseason” seems to imply that there will be a “next season” for which McMillan needs to strategize. The first-year coach also made vague mention about his desire to help Jeff Teague get “better” next season as well as a training regimen that is in the works for Myles Turner to add strength, both of which seemed to provide additional context clues that he will be around to see those offseason objectives come to fruition.
While there haven’t been any rumblings or even whispers of a coaching change, McMillan’s performance this season didn’t exactly validate Frank Vogel’s ouster.
His team was still searching for an identity 70-plus games into the season until Lance Stephenson’s passion became their identity. They held the ball too much. Their defense waxed and waned. They averaged 0.85 possessions fewer than they did last season, and player movement within possessions was as stagnant as ever, ranking 28th in the league.
“We had to change that approach in a sense of focusing on the defensive end of the floor to try to get more stops,” McMillan said of why they had to shift their focus away from pushing the pace. “If you want to play faster, you’ve got to get stops and you’ve got to rebound the basketball.”
Larry Bird’s decision to stack the roster with multiple ball-dominant scorers and sprinkle it with plodders to compensate for erratic shooting and shaky defense obviously ensured the team’s transition to uptempo offense would have a low ceiling, but McMillan’s rotation decisions and lack of adjustments in the playoffs hindered the team from reaching its modest potential.
It took Indiana’s head coach two games to replace Monta Ellis in the starting lineup with C.J. Miles, despite the fact that Cleveland was using the drive-first guard’s man to crowd Paul George. Once he finally relented, he inexplicably continued to put Jeff Teague’s leaky defense in the position to have to try to combat the 1-3 pick and roll where the crafty guard either got abused by Kyrie Irving’s handles or punished by LeBron’s strength. Expecting Kevin Seraphin to be able to force the side pick and rolls away from the middle and recover when the Cavs had Kevin Love and Channing Frye on the floor was another sore spot, though not as painful as watching the Ellis-Stephenson pairing muck up the team’s spacing in Game 3 as Indiana’s sizable lead dwindled with Jeff Teague on the bench. Why it was that he sparsely tried to test Love’s ability to defend ball screens also remains a mystery.
Granted, Cleveland’s roster was versatile enough to counter most of what McMillan could’ve tried. For instance, if the Pacers would’ve tried to go smaller with Thaddeus Young at five alongside Stephenson, Robinson III, George and Miles in an effort to switch everything, the Cavs probably would’ve responded by playing LeBron at center and having him play a sort of one-man zone against Lance. Still, persisting with the same approach while expecting different results was maddening.
In-between pinning his team’s season-long struggle with defensive miscommunication on mouth guards and claiming that conditioning was to blame for why the Pacers surrendered a 26-point lead in the second half of Game 3, Indiana’s head coach readily acknowledged that his team’s consistency, toughness, maturity, and putrid road record weren’t where they needed to be this season.
“We as a group, I feel, we need to improve,” he said.
In order for that to happen, it’s imperative that he includes himself within the group.