Jamelle McMillan was a year old when the Bad Boys won the first of the three NBA championships the Pistons have claimed. But his dad, Nate McMillan, was in his third season of his playing career and he’s regaled Jamelle over the years with tales of what defined that team and its heir, the Goin’ to Work Pistons that won the 2004 title.
McMillan, who began his coaching career on Monty Williams’ staff in New Orleans and most recently was part of his father’s staff in Atlanta, was named Monday as head coach of the Motor City Cruise, the third-year franchise launched in 2021 when the Pistons brought their G League affiliate to Detroit.
If you’re wondering what McMillan intends to put on display when his Cruise team takes the floor this season, those championship-era Pistons teams are a good launching point for him.
“I think competition is at the forefront. When you think about those teams and that era, everything was about force,” McMillan said Monday. “It was about pressure and about applying pressure in different ways and just competing at all times.”
That’s not just McMillan giving a nod to the Pistons past. That’s the result of his 34 years of growing up as Nate McMillan’s son and learning his way around the NBA at the knee of Monty Williams, who spent the first five seasons of his NBA coaching career on McMillan’s staff in Portland.
Combine that with Troy Weaver’s mission statement since taking over as Pistons general manager three years ago to build a team in the image of the franchise’s title winners – one built on a foundation of defense, depth, toughness and selflessness – and Jamelle McMillan becomes an ideal candidate to take over as Cruise coach.
“Those teams were very, very physical, as we know,” McMillan said. “The roster for the Pistons is structed that way with all the bigs and very physical, big bodies. Big guards in Cade (Cunningham), who has tremendous size, Ausar (Thompson) now as a nice-sized wing that can get up and down the basketball floor. There’s discipline with force.”
As part of the Atlanta staff, McMillan says the Hawks knew when the Pistons were on the schedule it wasn’t going to be an easy night.
“What Troy has done recently in putting this roster together, just coming from another organization in Atlanta, we had concerns about coming up here and playing this group due to the competitive spirit, due to the physicality of this team,” he said. “You’re going to have to play throughout the entirety of the clock, 48 minutes. That’s a true testament to the type of guys you’ve got here. The type of guys Troy has brought in fits the identity of the organization and what Detroit basketball is all about. I’m looking forward to getting behind that and it speaks to my identity, as well.”
McMillan has taken pieces of his father and of Williams and made them his own, organically more than consciously.
“The number one thing for me is not trying to be either one of those guys because that’s a really, really tall task for any coach,” McMillan said. “For me and my approach with coming into this thing, I am who I am. And that should be a representation of those guys naturally just because those guys both represent what I’m about in my everyday life both on and off the court.”
McMillan was announced as part of Williams’ Pistons staff in June and spent Summer League and beyond working with many of the players expected to be part of the Cruise roster, including two-way players Jared Rhoden and Malcolm Cazalon and camp invitees Buddy Boeheim and Tosan Evbuomwan.
“Unbelievable human beings. Talking to those guys outside the lines, really was able to connect with them,” McMillan said. “They’ve been in the gym the last month. They still haven’t left. The support they gave me when they found out I was taking the position is really reassuring.”
It was a whirlwind off-season for McMillan, who was expecting to leave Atlanta for Phoenix as part of Williams’ staff with the Suns before Phoenix surprisingly made him available and Pistons owner Tom Gores won Williams over on the belief he was the right man at the right time for a Detroit franchise that sees itself on the verge of a breakthrough.
“I got the call again from the same guy who’s really family to me and coming to a historic franchise like Detroit – growing up in the league with my background, my father playing against those old-school Pistons teams … this is a special place, one of the organizations that our league really needs and really values. Just being here is really a tremendous opportunity for me and my career.”