June 13, 2021

Pacers reportedly fire 1st-year coach Nate Bjorkgren amid internal tumult

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The Indiana Pacers fired Nate Bjorkgren on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Pacers finished 34-39 and ninth in the Eastern Conference in Bjorkgren’s first season in Indianapolis. He previously was an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns.

Bjorkgren came under fire in the final weeks of the season after Wojnarowski reported that his future was “uncertain” because of his relationships within the team and organization.

After the ESPN report, the Pacers endured an embarrassing sideline incident in a loss to the Sacramento Kings on May 5.

Assistant coach Greg Foster erupted on center Goga Bitadze after the Kings’ Maurice Harkless dunked over Bitadze, who stopped and watched it. Bitadze hit a 3-pointer on the next play and yelled to the bench “sit the f*** down” at Foster. Foster then screamed at Bitadze during a timeout.

Foster was suspended one game for the incident and Bitadze was fined an undisclosed amount by the team.

T.J. Warren reportedly wanted out after Bjorkgren hired

Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that T.J. Warren requested a trade when Bjorkgren was hired and had surgery for a stress fracture in his foot in March that ended his season — and time playing for Bjorkgren — early. Warren was a member of the Suns when Bjorkgren was an assistant coach there.

The Pacers dealt with a variety of injuries this season. Center Myles Turner has been out with a toe injury after averaging an NBA-leading 3.4 blocks per game and being in the middle of the Defensive Player of the Year buzz.

Indiana traded Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets as part of a four-team deal in January after failing to reach a long-term contract extension. That trade brought Caris LeVert to Indiana where doctors found a cancerous mass on his kidney which was removed. That sidelined LeVert for two months.

Guards Jeremy Lamb (knee) and Malcolm Brogdon (hamstring) also have missed time, including recently.

Bjorkgren took over after Indiana fired Nate McMillan after back-to-back early playoff exits in 2019 and 2020. McMillan is currently the Atlanta Hawks’ interim head coach, replacing Lloyd Pierce who was fired before this season’s All-Star break.

Nate Bjorkgren holds his face mask while yelling from the sideline.

The Indiana Pacers fired first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren amid internal tumult. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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