The Indiana Pacers have parted ways with head coach Nate Bjorkgren after just one season, the team announced on Wednesday. This is a decision that had been brewing over the past couple months, as reports surfaced regarding his inability to establish good relationships with the players or people on staff within the organization.
Indiana is reportedly looking for a more experienced coach to lead a team that should be in playoff contention with a roster that consists of several talented players, including All-Star Domantas Sabonis.
Although the Pacers started the season well, going 6-2 in their first eight games, the team struggled to build upon that success over the course of the season. Injuries certainly played a part, as T.J. Warren underwent season-ending surgery just four games into the schedule to repair a stress fracture in his left foot. Big man Myles Turner also missed 22 of Indiana’s last 23 games in the regular season and both play-in games with a partial tear in his plantar plate in his toe. Several other players, like Malcolm Brogdon and Sabonis missed chunks of games here and there as well which also played a factor.
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But this seemed to be an issue bigger than just players not being able to stay on the court. During team president Kevin Pritchard’s end-of-the-season press conference last month, he painted a picture of a coach that was lacking in interpersonal skills, and said “that’s got to be improved.” Clearly, though, Indiana didn’t want to wait around and find out if he could rebuild the trust within the locker room.
Aside from the relationships he was unable to foster with players, coaches and staff members, the Pacers also just weren’t very good this season. A year after finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference under then coach Nate McMillan, Bjorkgren posted a 34-38 record, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference. While Indiana managed to win a play-in game against the Charlotte Hornets, this team — with largely the same roster as last year — certainly should’ve finished higher in the standings than it did.
Under McMillan, the Pacers were seventh in the league in defense as season ago, but under Bjorkgren, that fell to 14th in the league. The offense did improve with Bjorkgren at the helm (from 19th to 14th in the league), but it didn’t amount to many wins. To make matters worse, McMillan, who Indiana fired after getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs in the bubble, led a Hawks team to fifth in the East, past a Knicks team in the first round in the playoffs and are holding their own against the championship-contending Philadelphia 76ers.
As the Pacers turn toward looking for a new coach to replace Bjorkgren, former Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts is reportedly of interest to the team, per Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes. Stotts, who was just let go from the Blazers after a first-round exit in the playoffs, attended high school in Indiana and was inducted as a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2020. Stotts would provided the type of coaching experience the Pacers are reportedly looking for as someone who made it to the postseason eight of the nine years he was in charge in Portland. Stotts would also be the complete opposite from Bjorkgren, as someone who has a solid track record of being able to foster strong relationships with his players and commanding a locker room.
Whoever the Pacers get as their next coach, they’ll be inheriting a roster that is already built to make the playoffs, the challenge will be to making a deep run in the postseason, something that neither Bjorkgren or McMillan were able to do.