NBA Rumor: Nate Bjorkgren Hot Seat?

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Thursday’s 133-126 win against the Atlanta Hawks kept the Pacers (31-35) in ninth place, a half-game ahead of the 10th-place Wizards (31-36). Seeds 7-10 will participate in a play-in tournament for the final two playoff seeds. “We just talked about playing basketball the right way, just playing hard and when you do that, most of the time you come out on top,” said Bjorkgren, who met with his team until 1 a.m. following Wednesday’s non-effort vs. the Sacramento Kings that resulted in disciplinary actions.

TJ Warren requested trade when Nate Bjorkgren was hired

Nurse was heavily consulted throughout the interview process, sources said, but Indiana brass never contacted Phoenix executives for insight on Bjorkgren’s time as a Suns assistant from 2015-17. Nor did they consult with last year’s Orlando Bubble breakout player T.J. Warren—who played under Bjorkgren in Phoenix—according to sources. When news of Bjorkgren’s hire became public, Warren requested a trade from the Pacers, according to sources.

Bjorkgren’s communication style has been categorized as aggressive and abrasive with players and members of the Pacers staff, from his front-of-the-bench assistants down to trainers and equipment personnel. That behavior was cited as the cause for one assistant coach’s resignation and one player to elect for season-ending surgery. “Typically younger coaches bring a more positive, spirited, encouraging behavior, not an antagonistic approach,” said an assistant general manager.

Nate McMillan’s success in Atlanta, after Indiana curiously fired him back in August just two weeks following a contract-extension agreement, has further muddied these waters. Multiple league sources with knowledge of the situation described McMillan’s additional year as something more of a parting gift than an earnest extension. By the Orlando bubble when Miami swept Indiana in the first round of the playoffs, Pacers players had grown fatigued by McMillan’s tough-minded approach, sources said. His slower-paced scheme, which diverged from modern trends of playing style—Indiana finished 30th in the NBA in three-point attempts per game last season—was also a source of consternation within the organization.

In turn, Pacers management set out to find a high-energy, new-age coach. Indiana initially cast a wide net, meeting with north of 20 candidates, sources said, including various profiles ranging from Spurs assistant Becky Hammon to former head coach Dave Joerger. And while Mike D’Antoni was long considered the favorite to fill Indiana’s opening, the Pacers grew to specifically covet a “Nick Nurse-type,” sources said. Pritchard is said to hold a longstanding relationship with Nurse, the inventive play caller who piloted Toronto to the 2019 championship in just his first year at the helm of the Raptors. Both men played overseas and later coached in the American minor leagues such as the ABA and USBL during the early 2000s. Nurse’s analytics-minded offensive acumen, honed in the G League, plus his outside-the-box defensive tactics, such as mixing various zone looks to keep opponents off kilter, particularly intrigued Prichard, sources said.

“They didn’t do their background on who [Bjorkgren] was or how he treated people,” said one person close to the coaching search. “They just talked hoops with him.” It seems that missing intel foreshadowed the very interpersonal issues that have since risen in Indiana. “When he was hired I was surprised, because he’s not the easiest to work with just on anything,” said one of Bjorkgren’s former G League players. “He’s kind of stubborn, won’t listen, even though it might be good conversation. He’s a micromanager and he’s not for everyone.”

“Nate is trying to coach a team that he doesn’t have,” said one Pacers staffer. “He’s trying to fit the system to the players and not the other way around.” Shortly after Christmas, word began to circulate that Bjorkgren was indeed prone to screaming at longtime Indiana staffers just as he’d done in the G League. His niceness and “infectious” positivity seen during his interview process and training camp began to come across to several Indiana staffers as insincere. “That’s how he is in general,” added one Indiana staffer. “He’s got like a Jekyll and Hyde thing.”
1 week ago via ESPN

Nate Bjorkgren takes blame for any communication issues

One day after ESPN reported coach Nate Bjorkgren faces an uncertain future with Indiana, the new coach blamed himself for any communication problems with players and those in the organization. “You know I don’t make excuses for things,” he told reporters before the game. “I’m a young coach. I’m learning, I’m growing and I’m trying to be better. This is on me. I’m the head coach and fingers should be pointed at me. I love coaching this team and the relationships with these coaches and players, I’ve just got to keep getting better.”

Players throughout the roster have voiced their dissatisfaction with Bjorkgren and their general unhappiness amid a down season, including key star players in Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, sources said. Those sources say Bjorkgren has implemented an analytics style of coaching that players privately do not find suitable for the roster, and that there have been issues among the coaching staff at times. Bjorkgren has worked to address matters internally, and one source described him as “over-communicative” to make sure he is sharing and receiving messages from the roster. One coaching source predicted that this would have a similar ending to what took place in Charlotte in 2013, when former St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap was fired after just one season amid widespread player frustration.
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May 13, 2021 | 8:30 pm EDT Update