After one season, the Nate Bjorkgren era is over for the Pacers.
Indiana moved to fire its coach less than 12 months after hiring him. The Pacers disappointed during the 2020-21 season, going just 34-38 and losing in the entry tournament after posting a 45-28 record the previous year with Nate McMillan.
One of the biggest problems for the Pacers was their complete regression on defense with Bjorkgren. This season, the team allowed 115.3 points per game, which ranked second worst in the Eastern Conference and sixth worst in the league as a whole.
The year before under McMillan, they ranked third in the East (and third in the entire league) with a mark of 107.5 points allowed per game. And that strong defensive game was a big part of his success.
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That said, while the Pacers’ lagging performance certainly played a role in Bjorkgren’s departure, behind-the-scenes issues were the biggest reason for Bjorkgren’s departure.
Why the Pacers fired Nate Bjorkgren
The main problem with Bjorkgren during his time in Indiana was his inability to connect with the players and the staff. His relationships with members of the organization became strained and this led to his departure.
Additionally, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that part of the decision was based on the fact that the Pacers are ready to win now with the roster they have.
The Pacers have a roster that should be a solid Eastern Conference playoff team with Sabonis, Brogdon, LeVert, Turner and Warren, and they were unable to advance with a young coach who struggled to manage the locker room and staff. If the Pacers had been moving toward rebuilding, maybe Bjorkgren would stick around. https://t.co/blXqxbzLiE
– Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 9, 2021
That certainly played a role in Bjorkgren’s departure, but his hiring was suspect from the start.
As described in a Bleach Report In the story, Bjorkgren’s hiring surprised many of the players who used to play for him, as well as NBA executives.
“When he was hired I was surprised, because it is not easy to work with him on anything,” said one of Bjorkgren’s former G League players, according to the Bleacher Report. “He’s a bit stubborn, he doesn’t listen, although it could be a good conversation. He’s a micromanager and he’s not for everyone.”
“They didn’t do their background on who [Bjorkgren] it was or how he treated people, “said a person close to the search for coaching, according to BR.” They just talked to him. “
This explains why TJ Warren, who played with Bjorkgren when he was an assistant to the Suns, allegedly requested a trade after Indiana hired him. Warren ultimately didn’t budge as he missed most of the season with a foot injury, but his already strained relationship with Bjorkgren was a red flag early in the coach’s tenure.
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While the Pacers players seemed happy with Bjorkgren after starting the season 6-2, things quickly fell apart after that. In the Bleacher Report story, Bjorkgren was described as a controller. He reportedly yelled at longtime employees, coaches and players, and had “a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing.”
“It’s very different,” said a league executive who has previously worked with Bjorkgren, according to BR. “He’s not an ad-k; he’s just completely out of his element as a leader.”
If that wasn’t enough, his defensive system wasn’t working, but he didn’t make the necessary adjustments to fix the problems.
“Nate is trying to coach a team that he doesn’t have,” said a Pacers staff member, according to BR. “He is trying to adapt the system to the players and not the other way around.”
All of those problems came together and led to Bjorkgren’s dismissal after just one season. Now, the Pacers will be looking for a new coach and can look back with regret at their decision to part ways with McMillan, who is coaching the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It seems that Indiana already has an interest in a candidate. As reported by Chris Haynes from Yahoo, the Pacers are expected to take a look at former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts when they begin their search.