Trae Young Runs The Atlanta Hawks. For Verification, $43 Million Is Greater Than $5 Million (Nate McMillan’s Salary)

In the NBA, the players are everything. The coaches just work at the pleasure of the real boss of these teams that Forbes reported were worth an average of $2.86 billion at the start of the 2022-2023 season.

That real boss isn’t the owner.

It’s not the president or the general manager.

It’s The Face of the Franchise.

Take the Atlanta Hawks, for instance. They fired head coach Nate McMillan this week, and then came a press conference at their practice facility with general manager Landry Fields. A team workout followed, along with this: After several key players gave their thoughts on the McMillan situation to those of us gathered from the media, a Hawks PR person announced star point guard Trae Young “had to boogie” and would meet with us the next day.

It didn’t happen.

It never was going to happen.

That’s because Young is The Face of the Franchise for the Hawks, and he makes an average annual salary of $43,031,940, which is about $38 million more than what McMillan was pocketing. Which meant the player had more power than the coach (and just about everybody else in the franchise shy of the owner) by a bunch.

Which meant the player could do whatever, and the player didn’t wish to discuss anytime soon how he delivered the biggest shove to push the coach onto the Atlanta streets before the end of the coach’s second full season running the team.

Or maybe I’m mistaken.

Perhaps a basketball isn’t round, and Young’s hands were totally clean regarding the McMillan ouster.

“They did not have any role in this decision. I would not ever go to a player on something like this,” Landry said after I asked him directly if Young was the catalyst behind the removal of a coach he publicly didn’t respect.

In early December, Young fumed when McMillan insisted he follow team rules by partaking in a shoot-a-round instead of receiving treatment on his shoulder. Young also was a no-show at the subsequent game. While the player said his absence was approved by the coach, the coach said otherwise.

There also was a January game for the Hawks against Charlotte, when their attempt at a game-tying three-point shot vanished after Young couldn’t inbound a pass for a five-second violation. The player and the coach engaged in an animated back-and-forth session at courtside with cameras rolling.

McMillan was so gone.

The coach never wins in these situations (see that gap in pay), and you can start with Magic Johnson versus Paul Westhead.

They combined during Johnson’s rookie NBA season in 1979-1980 to win a world championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even so, months after he signed a 25-year contract for $25 million in the summer of 1981, he told owner Jerry Buss and the public he wanted a trade if the Lakers didn’t fire Westhead and his low-post offense (as in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and get somebody with more of a giddy-up style.

The Lakers whacked Westhead within 24 hours for Pat Riley.

Fastbreaking to modern times, there isn’t enough cyberspace to list how often LeBron James functioned as player, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, team president and owner for the Cleveland Cavaliers (twice) and Miami Heat. Now he has the same reputation with the Lakers.

Trae is no LeBron or Magic on the court, but he is a prolific shooter, and he has two All-Star Game trips in five seasons. He’s also dribbling in the direction of those two icons off the court. He began his NBA career under Lloyd Pierce, but soon after that coach had conflicts with The Face of the Franchise for the Hawks, he was fired in the spring of 2021.

One of Pierce’s assistant coaches replaced him.

Nate McMillan.

All McMillan did was turn the 14-20 team he inherited into a Southeast division champion along the way to the 2021 Eastern Conference finals.

But McMillan just went the way of Pierce, and if you didn’t know any better, it looks like Young’s fingerprints were all over it.

So, when the Face of the Franchise for the Hawks finally surfaced two days after his teammates spoke on McMillan’s departure, somebody asked Young if he thought he was being perceived as a coach killer.

“Oh, people are gonna say what they got to say,” Young said after he told reporters of McMillan: “I got nothing but love and respect for Nate and the type of person he is, and things like that.”

Let’s return to The Coach Killer thing.

“I mean, a lot of players have played for a lot of coaches,” Young said. “So, I don’t look at it like that. I’m not looking at the next coach that comes in here or whatever. I’m just trying to, I’m trying to win championships. So, whatever it is, I’m just trying to win. So that’s all I care about.”

Yeah, well. Quin Snyder is reportedly close to taking McMillan’s place. If that happens, here’s a suggestion for the former Sacramento Kings head coach and one-time Hawks assistant: Make sure you always have a Plan B for employment and spend every week baking Young a batch of cookies or something.

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