Collins’ comments were the most insightful. He expressed appreciation for McMillan while acknowledging he felt the longtime coach was better suited to coach a veteran team rather than a younger one like these Hawks. The Hawks’ oldest player is Bogdan Bogdanovic, 30, while 10 players on the current roster haven’t turned 25.
“I feel like everybody isn’t going to be on board with all of anyone’s decisions, but I’m saying more so in terms of what Nate was asking from us as a group and where we are mentally, professionally, in years and experience,” Collins said. “It just kind of creates a divide of the expectation versus where we are, what we have developed to as young players. So I feel like he’s a little bit more suited for just guys who are older, understand the game. Whereas the young team, we need guidance. And I feel like we need a different kind of guidance. Hopefully, our new coach can come in and bring us that spark.”
Asked what type of guidance was needed, Collins, the longest-tenured Hawk, mentioned an emphasis on player development. He also noted the players need to be more accountable among each other, an issue that goes beyond coaching.
“I feel like we’re all young. We want to develop into the best players we can be,” Collins said. “So, you know, what we do before and after games and just being held accountable to a certain standard. We just need to grow up mentally. I feel like we’re talented, we’re extremely talented in a lot of aspects with the basketball and what we do on the court. But in terms of leadership, togetherness, the brotherhood, the culture we have here, that’s where we need to grow and hold each other accountable. Just making sure we’re mentally locked in in the right areas to succeed on the court.”
Collins continued when asked what goes into players growing as leaders.
“Being held accountable in all aspects, whether it’s from the organization to the players to the training staff, weight room,” he said. “I feel like that’s where you start is holding people accountable to not only their job, but their expectations as men on this team. It’s the NBA. We’re not in college anymore. We’re not in high school. We were expected to come in here and be men and try to win basketball games.
“So I try to do what I can, but it takes a village. It’s not one guy. Everybody has to hold everybody accountable, as well as me being able to be held accountable by my teammates and by my staff. So it’s delicate. It’s not just something that, you know, is magic, but that’s where it starts.”
Collins then was asked if accountability had been a problem with individuals. He declined to mention names but acknowledged there have been issues.
“Yeah, I definitely feel like we can do a better job of that,” he said. “It’s not something that’s broken, that can’t be fixed. But it’s definitely something that we need to, you know, come together on and be more strict on just keeping our standards high.”
Capela agreed with Collins: “Probably, yeah. I agree with that. I agree maybe it’s (the) coach’s voice. I agree that maybe we’re not good enough on defense, we’re not good enough on offense. So it’s a lot of things. I don’t just think that it’s just one thing. So I have to agree to that.”
McMillan’s voice had waned in the locker room, the players said. Capela said he felt that the ability McMillan once had to relate to the team largely had dissolved.
One may ask what has changed since the playoffs two years ago, when McMillan – as an interim coach – oversaw the team’s run to the Eastern Conference finals. Collins noted the much different roster now: “He can’t coach the same because we don’t have the same guys.” Capela mentioned the 2020-21 Hawks having more veterans, naming Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Solomon Hill.
While Collins and Capela experienced the McMillan era from start to finish, Murray joined the franchise last summer. The Hawks acquired Murray hoping he would form a dynamic pairing with Young. It has been rocky as the two learn how to play together, but Murray has met expectations as a two-way talent.
Murray spent his first six seasons in San Antonio, which under the direction of Gregg Popovich long has been a poster child of stability and professionalism. The seemingly constant drama surrounding the Hawks is a new experience for the 26-year-old, but in Spurs fashion, Murray didn’t reveal much during his news conference.
The All-Star guard deferred to the front office, saying the coaching change was a decision out of his control, and he focuses on his on-court duties. When asked what qualities he’d like in the next coach, Murray defaulted to the same response. He conveyed respect for McMillan and said he called him immediately after hearing the news.
Murray said he was disappointed that the players couldn’t deliver for McMillan, echoing his teammates’ sentiments.
“I do feel bad because it’s not just on Nate McMillan,” Murray said. “You know, I could look in the mirror, and I could be a part of that, you know, as somebody who holds myself accountable. I use the accountability word on the court, off the court. And like I said, it’s not just one guy to blame. So I hope people that’s making all these reports, even you guys (media) when you put out reports, just to know it ain’t on Nate McMillan. We all have to look in the mirror and take responsibility in part of this. We all have to be better.”