Nate McMillan Fired as Pacers Head Coach After Getting Swept by Heat in Playoffs

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2020

Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan gives instruction during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Kim Klement/Associated Press

The Indiana Pacers announced Wednesday they fired head coach Nate McMillan.

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

Official Statement: https://t.co/l9kMqiYEXh

The move comes two days after the Miami Heat swept the Pacers out of the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs. Two weeks ago, Indiana confirmed it had agreed to a contract extension with McMillan.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni would be near the top of the Pacers' wish list were he to find himself out of a job this offseason.

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

D'Antoni isn't an inexpensive hire and that'll be a question for Pacers and small market teams with league revenue stagnant in pandemic: How far will they go to pay a coach? Indiana also plans to search pool of those they'd consider 'program builders' over long-term, per sources.

The timing of McMillan's firing is undoubtedly puzzling, even without factoring his apparent extension into the equation.

The Pacers finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, and while a sweep might have been somewhat unexpected, they were underdogs against the Miami Heat. Victor Oladipo hasn't been himself since returning from his ruptured quad, and Domantas Sabonis missed the series because of a foot injury.

McMillan couldn't reasonably have been expected to do much more with the hand he was dealt.

Zach Harper @talkhoops

Unless the Pacers know they’ll get Mike D’Antoni (which it’s very possible they do), then I’m not sure what the firing of Nate McMillan does. Who looks at that team and thinks they underachieved?

However, The Athletic's Clevis Murray reported McMillan has been on shaky ground "since at least May":

Clevis Murray @ClevisMurray

The Pacers like the idea of pursuing a faster offense, per source, which is where their D’Antoni interest stems from. Indiana has been a bottom 20 team in pace the last three seasons.

This could be the case of a team firing its head coach because that's the most obvious gambit to play.

The Pacers aren't a marquee free-agent destination, and trading Oladipo or Myles Turner probably wouldn't land them the kind of player who drastically improves the roster.

Indiana probably feels a sense of urgency because of Oladipo's extension as well. He's a free agent after the 2020-21 season, so the team needs to maximize what time is left on that deal and determine whether the 28-year-old is worth attempting to sign to a max deal.

Maybe D'Antoni or another head coach brings in a different style that accentuates Indiana's squad better than McMillan did.

The Toronto Raptors fired Dwane Casey after a 2017-18 season that ended in him winning Coach of the Year. The Raptors became NBA champions in 2019 with Nick Nurse at the helm.

Kawhi Leonard was obviously instrumental in that success, but Toronto continues to excel under Nurse's watch, ultimately justifying the front office's decision to jettison Casey.

This time next year, fans might be praising the Pacers for being similarly proactive.