The Hawks were only 14-20 under former coach Lloyd Pierce when then-assistant coach Nate McMillan, who is 56, was named interim coach after Pierce was fired.
McMillan, who was more experienced than Pierce, with being a former head coach in Portland and Seattle, would not let the young Hawks play out the regular season string. Instead, he encouraged them that the playoffs were still within reach.
Under his tutelage, the team was able to hold onto leads late in the game, come from behind and showed that they could play with the league’s heavyweight teams and win games.
The Hawks posted a 27-11 regular-season record under McMillan and earned the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Hawks beat the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in the first two rounds of the playoffs before falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the Eastern Conference finals. It marked only the second time in their Atlanta history the Hawks played in the conference finals.
So it comes as no surprise to anyone who follows the NBA that McMillan became the head coach and a new contract.
McMillan earned his new deal as full-time coach of the Atlanta Hawks by leading the team to its first playoff appearance since 2017.
McMillan’s deal was formalized with general manager Travis Schlenk on Monday and finalized on Thursday with the announcement that he would be the head coach.
“The incredible job Nate did after taking over this season made this an easy decision,” Schlenk said. “We were able to see how gifted a tactician, motivator and leader he is first-hand and the high level of respect and trust he earned from our players made securing him as our head coach our top priority.”
McMillan became the 20th winningest coach in NBA history, passing Mike D’Antoni, when Atlanta beat Golden State on April 4. In his NBA coaching career with Atlanta, Indiana, Portland and Seattle, he has a 688-599 regular-season record.
The former North Carolina State star has always been and always will be popular with Seattle Supersonics fans. After being the No. 30 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft, the 6’5 guard played his entire career with the franchise. For his loyalty and stellar play The Sonics retired his No. 10 jersey.
Known as “Mr. Sonic”, McMillan was also known to be one third of the “Big Mac” trio of the Supersonics in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the others being Xavier McDaniel and Derrick McKey.
COURTESY THE NBA