After one tumultuous season, the Indiana Pacers fired coach Nate Bjorkgren on Wednesday.
Pacers management met with Bjorkgren on Tuesday to discuss his future and ultimately decided that the disconnect between him and a veteran locker room with playoff aspirations had created an insurmountable gulf, sources told ESPN. Bjorkgren had one guaranteed year left on his original three-year contract, sources said.
“This was my decision,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said. “This was a really tough decision, one that had a lot of thought behind it. I brought in my management team, something we didn’t do lightly.”
Indiana interviewed nearly 20 candidates a year ago and could return to some of those candidates who are still available. Head-coaching experience is expected to be a premium element of the Pacers’ upcoming search process, sources said.
“There are certain things [traits] that are nonnegotiables for me going forward,” Pritchard said. “I hope I’ve learned from this in terms of selecting the right coach.”
Bjorkgren was hired to replace Nate McMillan, but sources said he struggled with the temperament needed to deal with players and staff as a head coach. The Pacers believed in his coaching acumen — and might have kept him had they decided to move toward a rebuild — but the organization remains committed to building on its core of Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner to push toward Eastern Conference playoff contention.
Indiana’s five-year playoff streak ended this season when they lost to the Washington Wizards in a play-in tournament bid to earn the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Indiana was 34-38.
Bjorkgren had been an NBA assistant with Toronto and Phoenix and had G League head-coaching experience.
There are now four head-coaching openings in the NBA: Boston, Indiana, Orlando and Portland. McMillan is the interim coach in Atlanta, but the expectation is that he will be rewarded with a new contract after the playoffs.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.