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Rick Carlisle Signs Reported 4-Year, $29M Contract as New Pacers Head Coach

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2021

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle gestures during the first half in Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Indiana Pacers rehired Rick Carlisle as their new head coach to replace Nate Bjorkgren, who was fired after the 2020-21 NBA season, on Thursday.

ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported Carlisle, who stepped down from the same position with the Dallas Mavericks last week, agreed to a four-year, $29 million contract. The 61-year-old previously served as Indiana's head coach from 2003 through 2007.

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports reported the Pacers didn't go through a "diverse" hiring process, and the belief around the league was that the job was always Carlisle's. 

"It's a team of skilled, unselfish guys that play hard," Carlisle told MacMahon. "It's always possible that moves could be made before the season, but I think [general manager Kevin Pritchard] and I are both very excited about getting the roster healthy and seeing what this team can be."

"It's hard to put an exact finger on it," Carlisle added, per MacMahon. "It's just a feeling that I had that it would be mutually beneficial. My hope is that Jason Kidd will be the next coach of the Mavs because he and Luka have so many things in common as players."

The Pacers made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014. Although they came up short against the star-studded Miami Heat on both occasions, it appeared the team's championship window was open for the first time since the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Indiana could never take that next step, though. It's failed to advance beyond the first round since those trips to the conference finals despite five postseason appearances over the past seven years. Paul George, the cornerstone during those deep playoff runs, left the franchise in a 2017 trade.

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Frank Vogel, who guided the Pacers from 2011 through 2016, was allowed to leave when his contract expired. He coached the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship last year.

Vogel was replaced by Nate McMillan, who posted a 183-136 regular-season record across four seasons, but the team went 3-16 in the playoffs under his guidance.

Bjorkgren was hired last October but lasted just a single season. Indiana went 34-38 and missed the postseason, leading to the third coaching change in five years.

"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.

The Pacers have a rock-solid group of starters—Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner—and they're all under 30. But whether they feature enough high-end star power to seriously contend for a title is unclear as Carlisle takes over the coaching staff.

Carlisle posted a 555-478 record across 11 seasons with the Mavs, and he guided the franchise to an NBA championship in 2011. In addition to his time in Dallas and Indiana, he also spent two years as head coach of the Detroit Pistons from 2001 through 2003. Carlisle was an assistant with the Pacers for three seasons under Larry Bird before joining the Pistons.

His career coaching mark stands at 836-689 in the regular season and 63-70 in the playoffs.

Indiana should be a playoff team given the talent on its roster, and Bjorkgren's inability to hit that baseline benchmark led to his quick departure. It does put a little extra pressure on the new coach to get the franchise back moving in the right direction right away.

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