Expected to bring the Indiana Pacers into the “modern” era of coaching, Nate Bjorkgren had the plug pulled after his first year on the job.
The Pacers announced Wednesday that Bjorkgren would not be retained as the team’s head coach.
“The 2020-21 season was not what any of us hoped or anticipated it would be, and our results on the court certainly did not meet the standards for what our organization and our fans have come to expect,” Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said in a statement. “We have determined this is the right time to move in a different direction.”
Bjorkgren went 34-38 in his only season as a head coach, hired from the Toronto Raptors where he had been an assistant under Nick Nurse and won the 2019 NBA championship. The Pacers won their first game in the NBA play-in tournament over Charlotte, but were blitzed by Washington, 142-115, failing to make the playoffs.
While injuries certainly contributed to the Pacers limping to the finish line, they were underperforming long before Myles Turner was lost for the last 19 games with turf toe on his right foot, Jeremy Lamb’s surgically repaired left leg cost him the last 17 games and Malcolm Brogdon’s right hamstring soreness kept him on the shelf for the final 10.
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The Pacers never won more than three games in a row and lost season series with East foes such as the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls.
Bjorkgren replaced Nate McMillan, who was fired following his fourth consecutive first-round playoff exit despite being a No. 4 seed.
The Pacers finished ninth under Bjorkgren, who was supposed to be the opposite of the hard-edged McMillan. But Bjorkgren rubbed too many people around the organization the wrong way, especially his players, with defensive schemes that were too aggressive for their personnel.
Aside from being a micro-manager, Bjorkgren was resistant to change and input from his staff, which grew frustrated, too. That snowballed in a May 5 home loss to the Sacramento Kings as Goga Bitadze shouted down assistant coach Greg Foster in an on-court verbal altercation. Foster was suspended for one game. Bitadze was fined by the team.
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A search is already underway, but given the Pacers were in this position just nine months ago means they’re not starting from scratch.
“While we do not have a definite timetable for our search,” Pritchard said, “we will move quickly to identify candidates who will make our team and our organization stronger.”
Follow Pacers insider J.Michael on Twitter @ThisIsJMichael.