INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Kevin Pritchard, Pacers president of basketball operations, made it clear on Wednesday afternoon: This one is on him.
After taking a risk and thinking outside of the box in summer 2020, the Nate Bjorkgren era officially backfired on the Pacers. The first-time NBA head coach learned of his dismissal in a meeting with Pritchard on Wednesday.
The 34-38 record was far from atrocious given a season-long foot injury to top forward T.J. Warren, and multiple lingering aliments for All-Star Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Myles Turner.
However, the No. 1 criteria for last summer’s head-coach search that landed Bjorkgren in the driver’s seat ended up being his downfall. A top notch, relatable communicator is vital across professional sports today. That item is still on the Pacers wish list.
This season, micromanaging, or “human management” as Pritchard dubbed the issue, became a problem under Bjorkgren’s leadership. On Wednesday, Pritchard didn’t want to detail the points he made during the conversation, a classy move considering the emotion of the meeting.
“Nate (Bjorkgren) beat himself up today as much as any coach I have ever seen,” Pritchard said. “He took it pretty hard.”
“I have too much respect to actually open up those wounds. I think he knows what he needs to improve on, and I think he will.”
The Pacers have already highlighted a “few” head coaching candidates that are expected to get a look during the upcoming search.
When asked about specific names, including Bloomington North graduate and recently dismissed Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts, Pritchard declined to comment.
Regardless, the search process will look a bit different this time around.
Last summer, the front office dove into nearly 20 different candidates, an enormous effort that Pritchard now admits may have been too broad of a search.
“I hope I learned from this; I hope our staff has learned from this in terms of selecting the right coach cause as I sit here this is a shared responsibility. It’s not just Nate gets let go. It’s my fault. It’s our organization’s fault. We got to do better.”
In terms of the roster set to come back to Indiana for the 2021-2022 season, Pritchard did highlight a concern that no head coach can fix.
On an individual level, Pritchard is pleased with the locker room. A solid, hardworking group that gets along with one another.
But, is this team too nice? Pritchard sees a glaring need for a clear vocal leader amongst the players on and off the floor.
Behind the scenes, Pritchard has challenged specific players to display “tough love” when it’s called for. Is someone ready to rise to the occasion and assume this key role? It is just another unknown ahead of a critical summer in Indiana.