Nate McMillan Eyeing Offseason of Improvements

As expected, no major news came out of Pacers’ coach Nate McMillan’s 25-minute press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday, but rather a summation of the team’s current state. McMillan has met with team president Larry Bird — who will address the media on Monday — and each of his players to review the previous season and look ahead to the next one.

The Pacers finished 42-40 and were swept in the first round of the playoffs in McMillan’s first season as head coach of Indiana. They needed a five-game winning streak to advance to the postseason, and were competitive with Cleveland in each of the four playoff losses, but generally did not quite live up to most pre-season expectations.

“The No. 1 goal for us was to make the playoffs,” McMillan said. “This was not a rebuild, it was more of a reload, so the No. 1 goal was accomplished. We need to be more consistent in our play. We dropped some games we felt we should have won. We have to be better. We’re expecting to be better and we know that.”

McMillan touched on a variety of subjects in his conversation with media members:

The Pacers’ greatest needs going into 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.”

Can Lance Stephenson can be the starting off-guard next season

“I’m certainly open to trying to balance our roster, depending on who we have on our roster next season. Lance has played that position, he’s started alongside of Paul before. They played some good minutes on the court together toward the end of the season. We can certainly consider doing something like that.”

Will next season’s style of play will be rededicated to a faster tempo or a return to basics with another big man to help Myles Turner

“If you want to play faster you have to get stops and rebound. We tried to address that last year by slowing down and limiting the possessions and change the mindset of the group I had.

“It depends on the roster I have in front of me to work with.”

On whether he expects Paul George to be part of the team next season

“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.”

Free agent point guard Jeff Teague’s future with the team

“I had a good conversation with Jeff. He’s really excited. He really wants to be back. He showed some improvement toward the end of the season. I really liked his approach that last game, really challenging Kyrie that last game. I think we can grow together after having him for a season. As I told him, he needs to be better and I think I can make him better.”

Does Myles Turner fit best as a power forward or 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.

“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.

On avoiding losses to poor teams

“(You come) into the season with the mindset, Look, you’ve gotten all of your vacation out of the way. When you come in, you’re focused on that season and not playing yourself into shape or waiting until your get knocked down to respond with that sense of urgency. When you come in, you’re physically and mentally ready to go.

“I thought for us on the road, we just didn’t have that mental toughness that you need. We were playing those games without the urgency, without the respect for our opponents.”

On Lance Stephenson’s impact on the team

“Adding Lance to the roster was a good move. I felt we needed that boost, that energy, that kind of passion. All season long, I was working with somewhat of a quiet group that needed someone to kind of lift that passion on the floor. I thought it helped a lot of our guys.”

His opinion of his team’s leadership

“When you look at the makeup of our team, you automatically look at Paul George as our leader. That’s not always the case. I think he tried to lead this team. It was a first for him in the sense he had a different group of players.

“What is leadership? Is it someone who’s always vocal or is it someone who does it by example? I think he tried to be more vocal at the start of the season. What you saw at the end of the season, it was by example. Just by coming out and … doing the things that needed to be done on the floor. I think the players followed that.

“It was a learning experience for Paul as well. I think he is the leader of this team. Guys follow his play and his actions, and when he has been good for us we’ve won games. This team has played at a level to give themselves a chance to win games.”

Whether Paul George’s level of play late in the season is sustainable for an entire season

“That was part of our conversation.

“Coming in with a new group this season, you don’t know how guys are going to work out. You bring all these players in and we’ve seen them be successful, but you don’t know how all this is going to work together. It takes time to learn who you’re playing with. You’ve got a backcourt mate in Jeff Teague who dominates the ball and needs the ball to be successful as a point. You have Thaddeus (Young) coming in at the four. A rookie center in Myles who’s starting for the first time. You don’t know how all that’s going to work out. I think all our guys came in like, Let’s just feel each other out, I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes.

“I think it got to the point Paul just felt like, ‘Look, I have to take my game to another level.’ Certainly the last month of the season when we’re playing .500 basketball and there’s a chance we might not make it, he just decided — we had the conversation, he has to take his game to another level. My conversation with Paul was, I think he can get to that point from the start. If he does that, then we’re talking about an MVP type of performance. We’re talking about what Russell Westbrook is doing, what James Harden is doing.

“Yes, I think he can get to that level.”

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