To play the rookies or not to play the rookies? That is the question.
With the first pre-season game of the 2011/2012 season hours away from tip off, the Portland Trail Blazers will have a few rookies and young guns that are no doubt just itching to set foot on the Rose Garden floor. Guys like Elliot Williams, Armon Johnson, Nolan Smith and Chris Johnson all really need and deserve to get some significant run during the pre-season (and, let’s be honest, all season long). These young guys will benefit from playing along with their new teammates for more than the final two minutes of a blowout game.
However, as many observers know, head coach Nate McMillan has historically been overly cautious with rookies’ playing time, and to many (myself included), McMillan has stymied those rookies’ development as NBA-caliber basketball players.
Last season after one particularly painful loss, I vented to a friend on GChat :
“It’s a singular talent, something I don’t know that any other coach in the history of forever has ever mastered. Nate is the only coach that can definitively crush the spirit and soul of every PG he’s coached. The ashes of so many promising careers’ stay strewn upon the Blazers’ court and will forever be part of why I think Nate is SO not Wesley..”
Dramatics aside, McMillan has been heralded these last few years as the best guy to coach a young, developing team, and that really makes me scratch my head. Because, um, have ya’ll seen the rookies and young guns he has coached while in Portland? Specifically, have ya’ll seen the guards he’s been responsible for developing?
Now, of course, I know it is not fair to pin the failings of all guards and rookies on McMillan, but let’s all stop pretending McMillan is a master at developing rookies or some how the best guy to draw out the talent of young guards.
His track record shows that he is not, in fact, the best coach to develop young athletes and help them flourish.
In the past few weeks, I have argued until I’m blue in the face that the Blazers should begin rebuilding right away because I feel the team should not delay the inevitable. Of course, the team does not listen to me, and all indications are that the Blazers plan on playing the season as if nothing major has happened.
According to interim GM Chad Buchanan, the Blazers plan on making the playoffs and causing some trouble for opponents, and he hopes the Blazers are a “tough out.” Nice, right? A tough out, that’s a high bar for this team, to be sure. On another occasion, Buchanan said the Blazers are “in a good position” to start the season and does not anticipate any more major moves to be made.
Now whether Buchanan has been ordered to be positive and speak as if this season is business as usual (even though we all know it is not business as usual), I will never know. But if the interim GM is saying the Blazers are in a good spot, Nate probably thinks so, too, and I predict Nate will not open up the roster and really let some of these young guys get some play.
Because if the Blazers are planning on winning enough games to get in the play offs and become a “tough out,” the organization may not feel playing rookies for the sake of development is the best option.
Tip off tonight at 7:00 P.M. PST.
H/T to @lindsaymills, @barbaratitus, and @oliviareneee for beginning this discussion on twitter this morning!