After parting ways with Nate McMillan following a first-round sweep in the playoffs, the Indiana Pacers found their next head coach in Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren. The team made the hire official Tuesday afternoon, but the details of the contract are unknown.
Bjorkgren has been an assistant with the Raptors since 2018 after Nick Nurse became the coach in Toronto. Bjorkgren worked with Nurse previously with the G League affiliate team formerly known as the Iowa Energy from 2007-2011. He's also served as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns, under, then, coach Jeff Hornacek.
President of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard spoke of the qualities that Bjorkgren brings to Indiana, most notably his championship experience with the Raptors.
"We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach," Pritchard said. "This was an extensive and thorough search, and when we reached the conclusion, we felt strongly Nate is the right coach for us at the right time. He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous. We all look forward to a long, successful partnership in helping the Pacers move forward."
He's worked his way up from being a high school coach in Phoenix, Arizona to the G League, where he won a championship in 2011, an assistant on the 2019 Raptors championship team and now he has his first shot at a head coaching gig. Throughout his G League coaching career, he's compiled a 126-74 record with four different teams.
"I am honored to take on the role as head coach of the Indiana Pacers," Bjorkgren said in a team release. "This is something I have prepared for during my career. I want to thank Kevin, Chad (Buchanan), Kelly (Krauskopf), Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Herb and Steve Simon for this opportunity. I also want to thank Nick Nurse for giving me my first professional coaching job 14 years ago."
Nurse and Bjorkgren have a storied history as the two have not only coached together through the G League and the NBA, but have also gone head-to-head as coaches, too. During the 2013 D-League championship, Bjokgren's Santa Cruz Warriors lost to Nurse's Rio Grande Vipers, and after the two coaches exchanged pleasantries following the game, Bjokgren said that Nurse told him that they could both be coaching at the next level.
"He said, 'There's no reason why we couldn't do this at the next level,'" Bjorkgren said in an interview with the Des Moines Register after the Raptors won the NBA championship. "And sure enough, he's been right on a number of things, and he was right there again."
Nurse is now right again, as Bjorkgren will be joining him in the head coaching ranks in the NBA.
With the hire of Bjorkgren, the Pacers are hoping that a new coach in the locker room will finally get this team over the hump of many first-round exits in the postseason. The Pacers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Heat in the NBA bubble, but injuries to several key players certainly played a factor in that.
Bjorkgren will inherit an Indiana team that is full of promise, with All-Star's Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, as well as Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and T.J. Warren. This is a defensively-stout team that hasn't reached its potential yet, or really had much time to develop any sort of chemistry, so Bjorkgren will have the opportunity to help create an identity for this team.