Pacers' Bjorkgren on Heated Foster-Bitadze Exchange: 'We're in a Frustrating Stretch'

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVMay 6, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 5: Head Coach Nate Bjorkgren of the Indiana Pacers looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on May 5, 2021 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Things are not going well in Indiana. 

A day after ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren had an "uncertain" future with the franchise and has "significant work to do with his relationships among players throughout the team and with some members of the organization," assistant coach Greg Foster and big man Goga Bitadze had a contentious back-and-forth during the team's 104-93 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Goga Bitadze and Pacers assistant coach Greg Foster got into a heated discussion.<br><br>Myles Turner and multiple other players got involved to attempt to break up the confrontation. pic.twitter.com/9Xr96HmJg8

"We're in a frustrating stretch here," Bjorkgren told reporters after the game. "... The competitive juices are flowing. Things like that'll happen." 

He added that he had individual conversations with both men about the incident and said he would further address it with the pair to understand how the confrontation boiled over. 

J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star reported that the exchange started when Bitadze allowed Moe Harkless to get to the rim uncontested for a second-chance dunk, earning Foster's ire. Bitadze made a three on the other end and when he ran back on defense he appeared to turn to Indiana's bench and told Foster to "sit the f--k down." 

At the next stoppage, Foster was heated to the point that coaches and a few players put themselves between him and the team huddle. 

Scott Agness @ScottAgness

After watching it back several times, it’s also clear Foster’s public eruption bothered Jeremy Lamb and Domantas Sabonis too. They didn’t like it. The masks hide whatever was said.<br><br>Some tough love is good, if warranted. But it’s too late.

Jason Jones @mr_jasonjones

Pacers assistant coach Greg Foster going at one of his players. That can't be good. Looks like a team with some issues when something like that happens. Kings up 80-59.

The 30-35 Pacers have had an incredibly disappointing season and currently sit in the No. 9 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. If those standings hold, Indiana would need to win both of their play-in games to earn the No. 8 seed, all to face the top seed in the East (currently the Philadelphia 76ers). 

The team's issues seem to have come to a head. A separate report from Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic on Wednesday noted that "Bjorkgren’s abrasive style has come as a surprise—in interactions with players and his own coaching staff members—and led to the kind of frustration that has caused significant concern."

That report added that "players throughout the roster have voiced their dissatisfaction with Bjorkgren and their general unhappiness amid a down season, including key star players in Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon. ... Sources say Bjorkgren has implemented an analytics style of coaching that players privately do not find suitable for the roster."

Wednesday's incident will do little to dispel the rumors that there is dysfunction brewing in the Pacers' locker room.