US Sports Veteran
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Indiana Pacers are parting ways with head coach Nate Bjorkgren after only one season. Bjorkgren met with the organization on Tuesday and was informed of his firing on Wednesday. Sources told Wojnarowski that Bjorkgren lost the locker room and trust of the Pacers organization during his brief time with the team.
The Pacers are looking for a new head coach less than a year after they hired Bjorkgren on Oct. 20. During his one season at the helm, the 45-year-old led Indiana to a 34-38 record, which resulted in a play-in tournament loss to Washington. The disastrous 142-115 defeat ended Indiana’s streak of five consecutive playoff appearances.
Before becoming Indiana’s head coach, Bjorkgren served as an assistant coach in Toronto for the previous two seasons. He filled the same role in Phoenix in 2016 and 2017. Despite inheriting a team with winning records dating back to Frank Vogel’s final year with the organization, Bjorkgren couldn’t keep his squad above .500.
The Pacers are well-known for their coaching woes. Nate McMillan spent four seasons in Indiana before his surprising dismissal last August. The long-time head coach led the Pacers to a 183-136 regular season record but suffered three first-round sweeps and lost in the first-round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs in seven games.
Indiana fired McMillan less than a month after he agreed to a one-year contract extension.
“What Nate has done in four seasons with our franchise merits this extension,” Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said in a statement on Aug. 12. “Between injuries and changes in personnel, he and his coaching staff have adapted and produced positive results.”
Fourteen days later, Pritchard penned another statement claiming it was “in the best interest of the organization to move in a different direction.”
McMillan signed on as an assistant coach in Atlanta before taking over the head coaching role when the Hawks fired Lloyd Pierce earlier this season. Atlanta is tied 1-1 with Philadelphia and MVP candidate Joel Embiid in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Bjorkgren suffered from many issues that ailed McMillan during his final days in Indiana, mainly key players suffering injuries. No Pacers player that averaged over 15 points per game played in more than 62 matches this season. Caris LeVert, who averaged over 20 points per outing, only made 35 appearances because of kidney cancer.
LeVert was hardly the only Pacer to suffer from injuries. Myles Turner missed 25 games, including both play-in matchups. Bubble star T.J. Warren only played four games all year because of a stress fracture in his foot. Jeremy Lamb missed time because of knee surgery, and a sore hamstring dogged Malcolm Brogdon.
Of those five injured players, only Brogdon was healthy enough to suit up for Indiana’s play-in game with Washington.
The Pacers fired Bjorkgren for more than being unlucky. Indiana never won more than three games in a row during the season, and Bjorkgren never saw eye-to-eye with his players. He lost the locker room, didn’t listen to his coaching staff, and was unwilling to adjust his game plan or defensive sets to fit the roster better.
Bjorkgren was aware of the problems festering in Indiana’s locker room.
“It’s been a tough year,” he told the Indianapolis Star in early May. “There’s a lot of challenges being a head coach in this league. I don’t make excuses for things. I’m a young coach. I’m learning, I’m growing and I’ve got to coach better. This is on me. I’m the head coach. Things should be pointed at me and rest on my shoulders.”
Ultimately, Bjorkgren didn’t endear himself to enough people within Indiana’s organization to earn a second year at the helm. One of the two years remaining on his contract is guaranteed.
Pritchard and Indiana already have a head start on finding a new coach. The Pacers interviewed nearly 20 candidates less than a year ago.
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