In the debut episode of Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young‘s new “From The Point” podcast on June 1, one of the topics addressed was his turbulent relationship with former Hawks coach Nate McMillan.
“Everyone can say what they want. Me and him had a really good relationship,” explained Young. “You can’t go to the Eastern Conference Finals without a good relationship from the coach to the PG.”
Young is of course referencing the Hawks’ magical 2021 postseason run, in which fifth-seeded Atlanta gentleman’s swept the New York Knicks and outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers before bowing out to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in a series many suspect Atlanta would have won had Young not turned his ankle in Game 3.
In those days, the local and national media alike were heaping praise on McMillan, who had taken over for the ever-preposterous Lloyd Pierce at midseason and guided the Hawks to the NBA Playoffs, where they had their deepest run since the franchise moved to Atlanta.
That offseason, McMillan signed an extension that removed the interim tag from his title and solidified him as the Hawks’ head coach for years to come.
Things quickly crashed back down to earth for the Hawks
With a frustrating 2021-22 regular season culminating in a five-game series loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs last year. McMillan’s horrific decision-making in that series about when and when not to call timeouts, combined with perhaps the worst five-game stretch of Young’s career, riled up Hawks fans, but things were going to get so much worse between the two.
Last summer, Atlanta traded for San Antonio Spurs all-star Dejounte Murray in the hopes that he would give Young a much-needed second star so that defenses could no longer load the box against him, as Miami had.
That splashy acquisition reignited hope for Hawks fans looking to recapture the magic of 2021, but those hopes were quickly dimmed when it became apparent that McMillan had absolutely no idea how to utilize his star backcourt in a way that would complement one another. Atlanta ran an offense that more closely resembled a team from 2003 rather than one from two decades later, and the result was an incredibly irritating regular season that saw the team teeter around .500 for an NBA record span of games.
Young and McMillan’s relationship grew even more volatile during the season, with Young declining to even show up at State Farm Arena for a December game against the Nuggets following a reported heated argument between himself and his coach earlier in the day.
The incident put the Hawks back into the national news cycle for all the wrong reasons, with “analysts” over at the major networks who hadn’t watched a Hawks game in two years being quick to label Young an uncoachable player (for full disclosure, yes, Young’s absence at the Denver game was an incredibly immature and selfish decision–that still doesn’t mean McMillan was a good coach).
Finally, things reached a breaking point in February when Atlanta dismissed McMillan and brought in noted offensive mind Quin Snyder, who reshaped the team’s identity and helped them push the Boston Celtics a game or two further than expected in the first round.
Young’s podcast comments could come from a place of sincerity, or they could be a well-planned PR tactic to help himself shed the notion that he is some sort of locker-room cancer, or they could be somewhere in between. But the reality of the situation is, Lloyd Pierce and Nate McMillan were fired because they are objectively bad NBA coaches in the modern era, not because of how immense Trae Young’s ego may or may not be.
We should ask ourselves why neither Pierce nor McMillan has received even an interview, let alone a job offer, after leaving Atlanta. Could it be that the Hawks simply misfired with two straight coaching hires?
Yes. The answer to that question would be yes.