McMillan, Miller trade barbs at practice

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — It was supposed to be an open forum. Instead, it quickly turned into a heated, expletive-filled exchange between Trail Blazers guard Andre Miller and coach Nate McMillan.

The Blazers practiced for an hour Thursday morning at the team’s workout facility.

Then McMillan opened the floor to questions, Blazers guard Brandon Roy said.

What followed was more than 25 minutes worth of shouting, cursing and fierce challenges that mostly came from the mouth of Miller.

The conversation and actions of Miller and McMillan were not visible, due to the fact that practice was closed during the exchange. However, the voices of both could be heard carrying through a wood door that opens from the media room to the practice floor.

“What the (heck) did I do?” Miller asked McMillan.

Miller then said, “I ain’t going to take this (stuff).”

McMillan soon fired back: “I’m saying you don’t make that call. You don’t.”

And Portland’s coach later added: “You don’t play the way we want to play.”

McMillan’s statement “you don’t make that call” is believed to be directed toward Miller because he told guard Jerryd Bayless to attempt to make a free throw with 4.3 seconds left during a 109-105 home defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

McMillan wanted Bayless to intentionally miss the shot. But Bayless made it, and Portland was not left with enough time on the clock to cut into a Grizzlies lead that had been built during a decisive 13-1 run late in the game.

Miller was not on the court nor available for comment when the media was allowed into practice. A message left for Miller has not been returned.

Meanwhile, McMillan initially downplayed the exchange.

“The conversation was with the team,” McMillan said.

McMillan later revealed that Miller did not practice Thursday due to a sore back which he hurt during the Blazers’ 105-89 home victory over the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 2.

McMillan added that he did not know if Miller would play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Rose Garden.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Miller is averaging 11.8 points, 4.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds this season. He has recorded double-doubles in Portland’s last two games, and poured in 22 points while dishing out a season-high 16 assists during the Blazers’ 105-95 road defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.

Miller was signed last summer as the Blazers’ main offseason acquisition. The 11-year veteran was expected to be a key component that would help a young, promising Portland franchise take the next step in its evolution. And Portland is 15-6 with Miller in the starting lineup.

However, a series of injuries and setbacks have hurt the Blazers’ chances this season. And while Miller has starred on the court at times, he has also openly struggled to fit in and adjust to his new surroundings.

“It’s a unique chemistry and culture,” Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said. “And anybody coming in here, it might be different to them. And I’m not talking about Andre — I’m talking about anybody.”

Miller questioned his role with the Blazers and future with the team during an interview last Sunday with The Columbian.

Miller said that if he is traded, it will only prove that the franchise did not truly want him in the first place. Miller was the team’s third option during the offseason, after Portland failed to acquire then-free agents Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap.

Miller added that he has not been given a legitimate opportunity to provide veteran leadership, while hinting that his role would not have increased in recent games had guard Steve Blake not been in the hospital with pneumonia.

“We’re almost halfway through the season,” Miller said Jan. 3. “And I still don’t know what’s going on.”

When asked Thursday about Miller’s confusion with his role, McMillan said: “That’s a conversation for us, if that’s the case.”

Meanwhile, Pritchard addressed the same issue by saying, “There’s an old saying out there: ‘Seek to understand before being understood.’ ”

McMillan stated that Miller has done good things for the Blazers while being asked to carry a heavy workload.

But when pressed to discuss Thursday’s fiery exchange with Miller, McMillan declined.

“I won’t talk about a conversation with my players and with my team,” McMillan said.

Pritchard, though, attempted to unearth a positive from the heated conversation between Miller and McMillan.

“I think you guys are making this more, and it’s not,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard stated that the more open communication between the team and its coaches, the better. Portland’s GM said he encourages an open-door policy, and that the best discussions lead the Blazers to “disagree, agree and unite.”

“We’ve all had girlfriends or been in a marriage and been in a relationship,” Pritchard said. “And if you’re quiet all the time, you don’t know how the other person feels. If you can engage in that really open, honest discussion, then you have a chance to either get worse or get better. And I hope we get better.”

Pritchard added that he did not think there would be any lingering effects from Thursday’s discussion between Miller and McMillan.

Meanwhile, Roy said the team understood going into the season that the addition of Miller would require an adjustment for everyone involved.

Roy praised Miller’s play and stated that he feels comfortable on the court with the veteran guard. But he acknowledged that Miller’s adjustment is ongoing.

“We can’t divide because we’re too thin right now,” Roy said. “I think he’s fine.”