NBA Rumor: Pacers Coaching Search

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Bjorkgren replaces Nate McMillan, who was fired on Aug. 26 after four seasons at the helm. McMillan was 183-136 with the Pacers but failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs. Indiana was swept by the Heat in the opening round last month. Sixers assistant Ime Udoka, Heat assistant Dan Craig and Pelicans assistant Chris Finch were also finalists for the position, sources told The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

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The Indiana Pacers announced Tuesday that they have hired Nate Bjorkgren as head coach. Per team policy, the terms of the contract were not released. Bjorkgren (pronounced BEE-ork-gren) served as assistant coach of the Toronto Raptors during the past two seasons (2018-20), and helped the Raptors win their first NBA Championship during the 2018-19 season. He also served as player development coordinator and assistant coach of the Phoenix Suns for two seasons from 2015-17 before joining the Raptors as an advanced scout during the 2017-18 season.

“We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach,” said President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. “This was an extensive and thorough search, and when we reached the conclusion, we felt strongly Nate is the right coach for us at the right time. He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous. We all look forward to a long, successful partnership in helping the Pacers move forward.”

While Nurse is hardly surly, especially when it comes to the typical never-satisfied disposition of head coaches, Bjorkgren is a check on Nurse’s occasional bouts with realism. It is easy to picture Bjorkgren smiling, no matter the size of his salary. “The biggest thing is he’s a super-positive guy,” Nurse said. “He’s the guy sitting next to me when I’m sensing disaster going on in a game and he’s saying, ‘We’re gonna win, we’re gonna come back.’ Constantly, ‘We’re gonna do it, we’re gonna come back.’ And that helps me out quite a bit.”

“He would literally be substitute teaching in the morning, come to practice over lunch break or whatever, and then go back to the school and do whatever he had to do there, and then come back after that and watch film or evaluate players,” said Keith “Lefty” Moore, who was an assistant with the Energy in the team’s first season. “We were always evaluating players in the D-League. “I knew that Nate was always hustling and that Nate definitely had a passion for the game. I remember we used to talk about things a lot, and Nate used to say, ‘My goal is to coach at the highest level.’”

Pacers interested in Mike D'Antoni?

Adrian Wojnarowski: “Mike Dantoni wants to coach. He had a very successful run in Houston advancing to the second round of the playoffs a couple of times, to the Conference Finals against Golden State and losing in Game 7. He was very intrigued with the Philadelphia situation. There are still openings out there… I think one that bears watching perhaps is Indiana. The Pacers are still in the early stages of a search. They’ve been talking to candidates, they haven’t really narrowed the field down too far yet. Still in the range of 5-6 candidates, so it will be very interesting to see if Mike D’Antoni and Indiana… If there’s a conversation at the very least for them to have.”

For the Pacers’ management team and Billups, there will be a process of getting to know each other in these interviews and discussing the depth of Billups’ preparedness for the job — and how they’d work together to build a coaching staff around him. Billups’ force of personality, leadership style and basketball savvy has long made many NBA executives believe it was just a matter of time until Billups landed a significant role with an organization, but thus far he’s been searching for the right fit.

Does this mean he’s hiring Hammon? Of course not. Nor am I saying he should. That’s not the point of this story. Point is: Hammon is a fascinating candidate, and the Pacers have a history of being out in front on this issue. And the NBA is inching closer to its first female head coach. Eleven women were NBA assistants this past season, including former Notre Dame star Niele Ivey of the Memphis Grizzlies. She’s not there anymore; Notre Dame hired her in April to replace McGraw.
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