After one tumultuous season, the Indiana Pacers fired coach Nate Bjorkgren on Wednesday.
Pacers management met with Bjorkgren on Tuesday to discuss his future and ultimately decided that the disconnect between him and a veteran locker room with playoff aspirations had created an insurmountable gulf, sources told ESPN. Bjorkgren had one guaranteed year left on his original three-year contract, sources said.
“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, and on behalf of the Simon Family and the entire Pacers organization, I want to express my gratitude to Nate for his efforts leading our team.”
Indiana interviewed nearly 20 candidates a year ago and could return to some of those candidates who are still available. Head-coaching experience is expected to be a premium element of the Pacers’ upcoming search process, sources said.
Bjorkgren was hired to replace Nate McMillan, but sources said he struggled with the temperament needed to deal with players and staff as a head coach. The Pacers believed in his coaching acumen — and might have kept him had they decided to move toward a rebuild — but the organization remains committed to building on its core of Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner to push toward Eastern Conference playoff contention.
Indiana’s five-year playoff streak ended this season after losing to the Washington Wizards in a play-in tournament bid to earn the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Indiana was 34-38.
There are now four head-coaching openings in the NBA: Boston, Indiana, Orlando and Portland. McMillan is currently the interim coach in Atlanta, but the expectation is that he will be rewarded with a new contract after the playoffs.