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Nate Bjorkgren’s Pacers job safe? Team president noncommittal on head coach returning next season

After a 142-115 blowout to the Washington Wizards in the play-in tournament, the Indiana Pacers’ season came to an end last week, with the focus turning to the offseason. Among many questions facing the Pacers before the start of next season, one of the biggest was whether first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren would be returning after reports surfaced that his future was uncertain with the team.

Despite being heralded as an innovative coach who served as an assistant to reigning Coach of the Year Nick Nurse prior to taking the job with the Pacers, Bjorkgren reportedly hasn’t been able to build solid relationships with several of the players and staff members within the organization. So when Pacers president Kevin Pritchard was asked in his end-of-the-season press conference about the fate of Bjorkgren’s job on Monday, it wasn’t too surprising that there wasn’t a lot of certainty in his response.

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“No decisions have been made,” Pritchard said. “I’m being evaluated. I’m being evaluated every day. [Team owner] Herb [Simon] has to decide if I’m fit for this job and what I need to improve on. Then Nate and I will have a long conversation over many days on what he needs to improve on. He is our coach as of now and I’ll have a fair discussion with him.”

Bjorkgren went 34-38 in his first season in charge of the Pacers, but injuries to key players like Myles Turner, TJ Warren and Malcolm Brogdon also played a role in the team’s success this year. However, the reports that surfaced detailing his strenuous relationship with his players painted a picture of a coach who didn’t have great interpersonal skills. Pritchard even said as much during his press conference.

“There’s no doubt Nate has this incredible science of coaching, X and Os, what play to call …,” Pritchard said. “Then there’s the art. I’m lucky. I’ve been around some amazing, emotionally intelligent coaches. That’s there for Nate, but that’s got to be improved.”

Pritchard noted that while players didn’t like the way Bjorkgren micromanaged them, no one said they were “unhappy” with the coach when exit interviews were held over the weekend. Bjorkgren has also reportedly been “resistant to change and input from his staff” at times, which some have said led to the departure of longtime assistant coach Billy Bayno early in the season. 

There was also a dust-up between assistant coach Greg Foster and Pacers big man Goga Bitadze during a game, which led to the suspension of the coach for a game and the team fining Bitadze. There was also the report that Warren elected to have season-ending surgery to avoid playing for Bjorkgren after he heard he was hired, but Warren has since refuted that claim, calling it “ridiculous.”

It’s clear there are some issues that need to be worked out in Indiana, but it remains to be seen if Bjorkgren will be around long enough to iron them out.