Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk moved quickly to lock down Nate McMillan as the full-time coach, reaching an agreement to remove the interim tag only two days after team’s season ended.
The deal comes after McMillan, in his interim role, led the team to an improbable run to the Eastern Conference finals.
Schlenk said Monday that “an agreement in place in principal” was reached earlier in the day with McMillan. “We’re just drawing up the contract,” Schlenk said.
The team is expected to officially announce the deal on Tuesday. Details were not immediately available.
McMillan, 56, was named interim coach after Lloyd Pierce was fired when the team had a 14-20 record. The Hawks enjoyed an immediate turnaround under McMillan.
They played better late in games, protecting leads while posting a 27-11 mark that gave them the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It was Atlanta’s first playoff berth since 2017.
The Hawks were underdogs in beating the New York Knicks in the first round and No. 1 seed Philadelphia in the conference semifinals before falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the conference final.
Schlenk said McMillan’s consistent message worked with a young team led by point guard Trae Young.
“I just believe he’s unbelievably consistent,” Schlenk said. “There’s no back and forth. Once he says this is what we’re going to do, he’s consistent with it, and because of that consistency, I believe the players believe in it. When somebody tells you something one day and the opposite the next day, it’s hard to have that trust. But with him, he’s unbelievably consistent with his views, and his guys bought into it.”
McMillan encouraged the Hawks to add toughness to their game. His leadership was the addition needed to make winners of a team built around such draft picks as Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish.
Schlenk also added a defensive presence at center with Clint Capela before the key free-agent additions of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari.
“They’ve been a great group all season long,” McMillan said after Saturday’s 118-107 loss to the Bucks ended Atlanta’s season.
“It was a huge challenge for them once coach Pierce was let go. I challenged those guys to be better, to do better, to sacrifice, to commit to each other, and they did.”
With McMillan’s return in place, another offseason priority will be negotiations with Collins, a restricted free agent. The Hawks will be able to match offers from other teams but must consider needs elsewhere.
“We won’t be in a situation where we have a lot of cap space like we had last year,” Schlenk said.
Hunter was emerging as a defensive leader and scoring threat at small forward before persistent right knee soreness finally led to season-ending surgery. Schlenk said he has received “nothing but positive” reports on Young’s rehabilitation.
The Hawks suffered another key injury during the conference finals when Young missed two games with a bone bruise in his right foot after inadvertently stepping on an official’s foot and twisting his ankle in Game 3. Young finished with just 14 points on 4-of-17 shooting in the Game 6 loss.
McMillan said he believes Hawks owner Tony Ressler is committed to long-term success.
“This could be the start of something that is consistent,” McMillan said. ”… Tony just talked about his commitment to this team and this organization to continue to win. They want to win here. He wants to build a winner. He’s willing to do whatever it takes. That was his message to the team.”
Schlenk said he knew McMillan was the right choice to be the full-time coach even before the playoffs.
“At some point during the regular season I went to Nate and told him the job was his if he wanted it, and we both agreed to wait until after the season to formalize it,” Schlenk said.
There was reason to question McMillan’s interest in the full-time position. He was reluctant to accept the interim job, agreeing only after being assured by Pierce that it was the right decision.
McMillan joined Pierce’s staff after he was fired as Indiana’s coach. He also is a former head coach in Portland and Seattle.