It was almost a year ago when Pacers team president Larry Bird fired then-head coach Frank Vogel, going in-house to hire assistant coach Nate McMillan to be Vogel’s heir apparent at the position - with the desire that McMillan would bring a more uptempo, fast-paced offensive identity to the team that was absent during Vogel’s tenure in Indiana.
Almost a year later - 357 days to be exact - and McMillan’s rookie campaign with the Pacers did not pan out as Bird had envisioned. The Pacers finished the 2016-17 season with a lousy 42-40 record and were recently swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.
Today, McMillan underwent his end-of-season press conference. While there were barely any quotes or bits of information taken from the first-year coach that could constitute as “groundbreaking news,” there were a few takeaways that could give insight as to what McMillan envisions for his team in 2017.
- Consistency, consistency... and more consistency.
It can go without saying that the Pacers were in the top-half of the league this past season in the ‘most inconsistent teams of 2016-17’ category. The team did have a few stretches where they compiled more than five wins in-a-row, including the five-game winning streak that saved their season. But too often would the Pacers flip-flop wins with losses. McMillan had this to say regarding the Pacers being consistently consistent in ‘17, which he thinks is one of Indiana’s biggest needs going into the next season:
"We needed to be more consistent. We talked about being tougher. We certainly need to address rebounding and improve in that area. And improve maturity. Going 13-28 on the road is not going to get it. As we mature and understand how to play, come with that sense of urgency on the road, we'll be a better team,” McMillan said.
The Pacers will look to have a more successful campaign in 2017-18, and improving their play on the road and finding ways to squeeze out those close games against lesser opponents is a good start.
- McMillan is confident in Myles Turner’s ability to play both power forward and center.
"I think he can play both positions. I haven't gotten into that conversation with Larry about Myles during the offseason, but we have talked about how I think he can play the four and the five. Is there room to bring another big in like we played two seasons ago with Ian Mahinmi? I think that's a possibility, but I think he has the versatility to play both positions,” McMillan said when asked about what position best fit Turner.
In his rookie season, Turner played mostly at the four spot alongside Mahinmi. It wasn’t really until his second year when he was moved to be the team’s primary center, with Thaddeus Young playing power forward. There were definitely some growing pains associated with his move to center, but Turner carried his own weight for the most part in his first year as the team’s starter at the position. Fans saw stretches where Turner struggled down low, which can be attributed to the lack of strength from the 20-year-old, which McMillan touched base on:
"The No. 1 thing we want Myles to work on this summer is strength. We're putting a plan together to get him stronger. Part of that will be just maturity … but the No. 1 thing is to work on his strength, so that whether he's playing the four or the five, he's stronger.”
- He didn’t say much regarding Paul George’s future in Indiana.
By now we have all heard the story that is George’s future with the Indiana Pacers. And if you’ve been following this team all year, you’re probably growing a little tired of this story by now. But as the offseason looms in the distance, the rumor mill will only continue to grow regarding what the future holds for George and the Pacers. McMillan was asked if he expected George to be a part of the team in 2017, to which he provided his answer:
"Paul is under contract. I had a good conversation with Paul during our meeting. He wants the same thing that I want and the organization wants, and that's to win. He is under contract. My plans are that he will be back with us."
If you were hoping to hear otherwise from McMillan earlier today, you may be mistaken. Going this route when asked such a question was likely the smartest move to avoid having his words twisted, thus enhancing the drama that has surrounded this story all season.
Paul George has definitely made it clear that the Pacers need to show him that they are trending upwards in the next few years rather than downward, in order for him to want to re-sign and resume his career with the Pacers. 2016-17 may have been crucial for the Pacers to impress George and show them that they can contend for a title, and instead they finished as the Eastern Conference’s No.7 team, failing to win a single playoff game. It’s hard to tell exactly what will happen between now and the start of next season, but things very well could get interesting.
The end of the season press conferences will continue next Monday, where Bird will provide his thoughts on the season, and his plans for the following seasons as well.