Pacers Pull Surprise, Hire Nate Bjorkgren As New Head Coach

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  • The Indiana Pacers have hired Nate Bjorkgren as their new head coach.
  • Bjorkgren worked as an assistant coach for Nick Nurse in Toronto.
  • The Pacers are a +3300 to win the Eastern Conference next season.

In a surprise move, the Indiana Pacers have hired Toronto Raptors assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren as their new head coach. The team made the announcement on Tuesday but made no mention about the details and terms.

Said Pacers President for Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard:

“We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach. 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.”

Extensive Search

The Pacers had an extensive search and interviewed over a dozen coaching candidates. Recently resigned Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni was considered as the front-runner to land the job. Former Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger was also a favorite to get the position along with New Orleans Pelicans assistant head coach Chris Finch. Former Pistons’ guard Chauncey Billups was also believed to be in contention.

However, Indiana ended up shocking everyone by hiring Bjorkgren who wasn’t even in the sportsbooks’ odds boards when the betting lines for the Pacers’ coaching job were posted. But while his appointment comes as a surprise to the outsider, Indiana picked a young and innovative head coach in Bjorkgren.

Bjorkgren’s Coaching Experience

Before joining Nurse’s coaching team in Toronto, Brorkgren also helped his good friend for four years with the Iowa Energy in the G League. The two helped Iowa win the G-League title in 2011. When Nurse transferred to the Rio Grande Valley, Brjorkgren accepted a head coaching position with the Dakota Wizards, who later became the Santa Cruz Warriors. During the team’s inaugural season, as the Warriors, Bjorkgren led them to the G League Finals where they lost to Nurse’s Vipers.

Bjorkgren returned to the Iowa Energy for one season before signing a new deal to coach the Bakersfield Jam, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He finally arrived the NBA in 2015 when he was hired by the Suns as assistant coach and leading player development coach.
He was appointed as the Suns head coach in the 2015 and 2016 Summer Leagues, leading Phoenix to the Summer League Finals in 2015.

After he was removed in Phoenix, he joined the Raptors advanced scouting department. When Nurse took over as coach, he was named as an assistant coach. Nurse and Brjorkgren teamed up to lead Toronto to its first NBA title in 2019, becoming the first coach and assistant, respectively to win championships in the G-League and NBA.

Big Shoes To Fill

Bjorkgren has big shoes to fill in Indiana. Nate McMillan led the Pacers to the playoffs in each of his four seasons as head coach. McMillan finished no worse than sixth place in the last three Coach of the Year balloting. He also helped develop Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis into All-Star players.

But despite his success, McMillan was unable to take the team to the next level. After putting up a seven-game fight against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, the Pacers were swept in the first round in the last two seasons, mainly because of the injuries suffered by Oladipo and Sabonis.

They have a solid young core led by Sabonis, Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and Bubble All-First team selection T.J. Warren. However, there are potential issues that he might have to deal with. Oladipo will become a free agent in 2021 and there are rumors that he doesn’t want to return to Indiana. There are also talks that Turner’s incompatibility with Sabonis could lead to his departure.

Swept in the First Round

The Pacers are in the bottom half of the current oddsboard to win the 2021 NBA title. Indiana is currently listed at +12500. They are also tied for the 7th longest odds to win the Eastern Conference at +3300 at as of 10/21/20.

Indiana finished the 2019-20 regular season with a 45-28 record, fourth best in the Eastern Conference. However, the Pacers ran into the Heat in the first round and were swept by Miami 4-0. Indiana played without Victor Oladipo during the most part of the regular season and lost Domantas Sabonis to injury during the seeding games at the Disney bubble.

With some uncertainty heading to nest season, Indiana is hoping that Bjorkgren’s flexibility and ability to develop his players will keep them afloat during the 2021 season.

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