Pacers' Bjorkgren on Heated Foster-Bitadze Exchange: 'We're in a Frustrating Stretch'May 6, 2021
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.
"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.
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.