Raptors' Nate Bjorkgren Agrees with Pacers on Contract as Team's Next Head Coach

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2020

Phoenix Suns' Alex Len, right, shakes hands with head coach Nate Bjorkgren towards the end of the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ronda Churchill)
Ronda Churchill/Associated Press

The Indiana Pacers have found their next head coach.

Indiana hired Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren on Tuesday. Contract terms were not immediately released, though ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported it's a multiyear deal.

Philadelphia 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, Miami Heat assistant Dan Craig and New Orleans Pelicans assistant Chris Finch were the other finalists for the job, according to The Athletic.

The Pacers announced on Aug. 26 they had fired Nate McMillan after being swept by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

The announcement even referenced McMillan's 3-16 record in the playoffs, although it didn't add the context that Domantas Sabonis was injured this year, Victor Oladipo was injured last year and the team took LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in 2018.

While McMillan lost in the first round of the playoffs all four of his seasons in Indiana, he finished with a 183-136 overall record.

He also largely maximized what could have been realistically expected of the team in 2019-20 with Oladipo coming off a ruptured quad and Sabonis sidelined in the postseason with a foot injury.

It was not enough to keep his job, though, and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Indiana was eyeing Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni when it fired McMillan. D'Antoni finished out his contract in Houston and parted ways with the team in September after the Rockets were knocked out of the playoffs by the L.A. Lakers.

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However, Bjorkgren was given the job and will now be in charge of a team that could be in something of a transition because Oladipo is only under contract through the 2020-21 season. As a result, he could be subject to trade discussions soon.

Still, there is a core in place with Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Sabonis and Myles Turner even if Oladipo is not around long term, and the Pacers are a steady franchise coming off of playoff appearances in each of the last five seasons and nine of the last 10.

Indiana is in a situation where a coach can step in and win right away, and that is exactly what Bjorkgren will try to do in his first head coaching job.

The 45-year-old began his career coaching high school in Arizona before moving on to the G League, where he served as an assistant under Raptors head coach Nick Nurse from 2007-11 and helped the Iowa Energy to the league title in 2011. He then became the head coach of the Dakota Wizards, who later became the Santa Cruz Warriors, leading the team to a Finals appearance.

After another year in the G League as the head coach of the Bakersfield Jam, Bjorkgren moved on to become an NBA assistant, first under Jeff Hornacek with the Phoenix Suns and then moving on to rejoin Nurse in Toronto.

While he doesn't have any NBA head coaching experience, Bjorkgren is someone who knows what it takes to succeed in the postseason where Indiana has failed of late. He won a championship as an assistant coach with the Raptors and learned from Nurse, who is generally considered one of the best coaches in the league.