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Nate McMillan set to defy Larry Bird’s 3-year rule with contract extension

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McMillan’s evolution contributed to the Pacers being the surprise team of the 2017-18 season, but he — not unlike his team — still has room to grow.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Pritchard, evidently, isn’t of like mind with Larry Bird’s arbitrary assertion that coaches grow stale after three seasons because the Indiana Pacers and Nate McMillan are finalizing an extension to keep the rising junior on the sidelines through the 2020-21 season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“I couldn’t be prouder to be working next to a man like this,” Pritchard said of McMillan, while getting choked up at the team’s end-of-season press conference. “I saw a different Nate this year. I challenged him every week to try to enjoy, for lack of a better word, the process, and to develop the heck out of this team.”

McMillan was left off the Coach of the Year shot list, but he made noticeable strides in his second season.

Not only did the Pacers obliterate their 30.5-win projection prior to the All-Star break and push the eventual Eastern Conference Champions to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, but McMillan’s willingness to abandon his strange defensive ethos dictating that his players guard their positions contributed to Victor Oladipo’s rapid emergence on both ends of the floor.

By calling upon Bojan Bogdanovic’s length and admirable effort to tread water against the opposing team’s top wing threat, Indiana’s head coach actively facilitated Oladipo’s ability to wreak havoc in the gaps — be it sending pestering help, buzzing around for steals and deflections, or manufacturing easy transition baskets.

Following a season wherein he stubbornly assigned Monta Ellis to DeMar DeRozan as opposed to hiding the non-shooting shooting guard’s notoriously sleepy defense on DeMarre Carroll, McMillan proved more amenable to change when he shielded Myles Turner from getting tangled up traversing off-ball picks on the perimeter for Kevin Love by allowing him to sag off Jeff Green and hang out on either J.R. Smith and Jose Calderon while staying in help position.

He also deserves credit for tapering the team’s helter-skelter pace so the defense could tighten up without discouraging his players from attacking early in the open floor.

Even so, nagging concerns still linger.

Getting Myles Turner touches was no more of priority this season (48.8) than it was last season (47.9). The solutions employed to help Oladipo evade hedges and traps were as bland as the feedback yielded from the spot minutes that Turner and Domantas Sabonis were on the floor together, and the team’s heavy reliance on mid-range jumpers came back to bite in the first-round against the Cavaliers when their field goal percentage on open twos dropped from 47 percent in the regular season to 41 percent in the playoffs.

As such, the Pacers are rewarding McMillan for wildly exceeding preseason expectations and succeeding at getting the team to fully buy-in to to his message to play for and with each other, but in so doing they’re also banking on the continuance of his growth curve.

Of course, there’s also something to be said for investing in a stable and harmonious power structure.

“The strength of this organization is Nate and I are over ourselves. Maybe if you asked that in Portland, you might have had a different answer,” Pritchard said following the season. “One of the things about those awards is you could take the executive of the year award and it’s probably more on his hands. You can take the coach of the year award and say that’s more on my hands. They’re so intra-related. It’s not important to me. I know it’s not important to him. I’d rather be quiet, keep putting together a team and let this team speak loud.”

As long as the team continues to make a statement on the court, McMillan’s voice deserves to be heard from the sidelines.