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Sunday, June 26, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Steve Kelley

We hope you stay, Nate, but follow the money

Seattle Times staff columnist

A quick note to Sonics coach Nate McMillan:

Congratulations, Nate, you have reached the crossroads.

It's a pleasant place, isn't it? Only the successful coaches eventually get themselves here.

Detroit's Larry Brown has spent most of his adult life hanging out on this corner. Phil Jackson has made several trips here. So have Rick Pitino and Mike Fratello. Hubie Brown came back to it long after he thought his days of hanging out were gone.

This is the corner where the suitors come to woo you. Where the team you know tells you it still loves you, while another team is telling your friends that it is prepared to love you even more.

It's kind of like being in high school again, isn't it? Like choosing a date for the prom, and all of your choices are smart and beautiful and rich.

After all these years in Seattle, after becoming a second-round pick in 1986, after becoming the Sonics' head coach in November 2000, you have come to the corner of Stay and Go.

The Sonics want you to stay. The Portland Trail Blazers would like you to go.

One loves you. One just might love you more.

It's your call.

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Now, I know there isn't a more loyal person in sports. You've told me more than once that you can't imagine working for any team but the Sonics.

But the Sonics are offering you about half of what the Trail Blazers intend to offer, if you don't re-sign with Seattle by the end of the month.

The Trail Blazers are willing to recognize what you did last year, shocking the league and coaching your team to the Northwest Division title. They are spreading the word they could offer you as much as $8 million.

My advice? And I know you haven't asked and never would listen anyway. Follow the money.

We all know about the Sonics' financial instability. The finite nature of the revenue opportunities at KeyArena. They've even said the size of your contract might hamper their efforts at re-signing Sonics free agents such as Vlade Radmanovic, Antonio Daniels and Reggie Evans.

For all the Trail Blazers' troubles, and Lord knows they have had troubles, money isn't one of them.

They have the building and they have the owner, Paul Allen, who always has been willing to spend. Not always wisely, but he's made the effort.

Remember last summer when your frustration started building with the Sonics' ownership? When you asked for free-agent help and got none?

The Trail Blazers will give you what you want. They are eager to bury their embarrassing recent past, where the police blotter practically became part of their pregame notes.

Follow the money.

I know it's not an easy call.

There is the matter of your family, which has settled into this community.

I've watched your son, Jamelle, win two state basketball championships at O'Dea as a freshman and sophomore, and I know how involved you are in his development.

And there is the matter of loyalty.

This is the franchise that gave you the chance to play. This is the city that embraced you like a son. This is the place where your retired uniform No. 10 hangs from the girders inside KeyArena.

And this is the team you took to a Northwest Division title last season.

You watched Luke Ridnour grow into a legitimate starting point guard. You saw Nick Collison emerge as a power forward, and you're intrigued with the possibility of him growing his game next year and becoming a legitimate three-point threat.

You are curious about the potential of center Robert Swift, and of course, you would welcome the expected return of free-agent-in-waiting Ray Allen.

Last season was a delicious surprise for Seattle basketball fans. The crème filling in the center of the doughnut.

But will you have something close to the same team next season? You've already lost your associate head coach, Dwane Casey, to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Last season's team came together like the pieces in a complex jigsaw puzzle that sat untouched for years. Will the magic happen again if too many pieces are replaced?

Portland isn't as bad as it seems. Sebastian Telfair is a lot like Ridnour, young and just emerging. He would be fun to coach. Zach Randolph is a star who just wants to play basketball.

And, depending on the vagaries of Tuesday's draft, you could be coaching your son's former AAU teammate, Martell Webster from Seattle Prep, and beefy New Jersey high-schooler Andrew Bynum.

In a couple of years, the Blazers could be a team on the rise and you could be the coach who helps them get back and get deep into the playoffs again.

And, in the summers, when you asked for another puzzle piece, you could be sure management would allow it.

As for your family, Portland is only 180 miles from Seattle. They can live here.

I'm sure, when time allows, Allen would loan you the company jet to fly home and see them and watch as many of Jamelle's games as possible.

After being around you for 19 years, I think I know you a little bit, Nate. And I have a feeling you're going to stay with the Sonics.

For selfish reasons, I hope you do. Covering you always has been a pleasure, whether you were playing, assistant coaching or head coaching.

But as you stand at the corner of Stay and Go, my advice is to make the turn on Go.

Turn against your nature and follow the money.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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