ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday that Nate Bjorkgren‘s future as the Pacers‘ head coach is uncertain, and Shams Charania and Sam Amick echo that point in their latest report for The Athletic. According to The Athletic’s duo, Bjorkgren’s “abrasive” style and a tendency to be controlling with assistants and other staff members has been a cause for concern.
Sources tell Charania and Amick that multiple Pacers players have expressed dissatisfaction with Bjorkgren this season, with Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis among those who haven’t been on the same page with the first-year coach. Those same sources tell The Athletic that several Pacers players feel the analytical style Bjorkgren has employed doesn’t suit the team’s personnel.
The growing pains Bjorkgren has experienced in Indiana don’t necessarily mean that the Pacers will make a coaching change at season’s end, but the situation is worth keeping a close eye on, per Charania and Amick.
In an intriguing development, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN hears from sources tell him first-year Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren may not last as the head man on Indiana’s bench beyond this season, citing the coach’s fraught relationships with both players and staffers. Woj does add that Bjorkgren has acknowledged an interest in addressing the problem.
After logging several years as an assistant coach for the Raptors, Bjorkgren signed a three-year deal with Indiana during the 2020 offseason. Woj notes that the coach’s salary for the 2021/22 season is fully guaranteed.
Bjorkgren has led an injury-plagued roster to a mediocre 30-34 record, good for the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference. So long as Indiana secures at least the 10th seed in the East, it will compete in a play-in tournament to qualify for the first round of the playoffs this year. The club has eight games remaining on its schedule.
Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files tweets that the Pacers are grappling with a plurality of locker room “issues” that he agrees need to be ironed out, indicating that there has been an atypical level of internal conflict since January (Twitter link).
Like many teams across this truncated NBA season, the Pacers have dealt with a significant amount of injury- and health-related absences. Players hit the hardest include starting center Myles Turner (who has missed 17 games and counting), reserve wing Jeremy Lamb (28 games and counting), newly acquired Pacers forward Caris LeVert (24 games), and starting small forward T.J. Warren, healthy for just four games this season.
Elsewhere on the team’s drama front, the Pacers were concerned that they would lose former star guard Victor Oladipo to unrestricted free agency this summer, and so dealt him to the Rockets. He was subsequently traded again to the Heat at the March deadline. Nagging injury troubles have beset Oladipo at all three stops this season.
LaVine’s return may prove to be too little, too late for the struggling Bulls. Chicago has gone 4-7 without him. Sporting a 26-39 record, the Bulls are currently 4.5 games behind the ninth-seeded Pacers, four games behind the tenth-seeded Wizards and a half-game back of the No. 11-seeded Raptors. The team has eight contests left to play.
After P.J. Tucker requested a trade for months from the rebuilding Rockets, the veteran big man ended up with the Bucks, an Eastern Conference powerhouse in recent seasons. However, despite leading the league in wins two years in a row and getting back-to-back MVP seasons from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee has endured multiple disappointing playoff exits.
As Milwaukee prepares for another postseason, and hopefully a deeper run, Tucker spoke about his role with the team as it aims for a championship. The 35-year-old has been limited to 12 games off the bench for the Bucks after some injury woes, but he tells Sports Illustrated’s Rohan Nadkarni that the team has been clear about his role.
“Yeah, definitely. Coach Bud (Mike Budenholzer) is super transparent,” Tucker said. “And I’m at the point in my career where I know why I’m here. I’ve lived through every situation possible. It’s not rocket science. They don’t want me to do nothing I don’t do. What happened last year, and how they lost the couple years, winning so many games in the regular season, not getting as far as they should have, they are looking for different lineups that can help win games. For me, it’s about bringing all the intangible stuff that they need.”
The rest of the interview is worth a read, as Tucker also talks about his long career, trade from Houston and his time alongside Antetokounmpo.
Check out more Central Division notes:
- Jerami Grant raised some eyebrows when he decided to depart from the Nuggets fresh off a deep run into the postseason and join the rebuilding Pistons. However, Grant says he has zero regrets about that decision, NBA.com’s Keith Langlois writes. “Between me and (GM) Troy (Weaver), there’s a lot of trust. Between me and this organization, there’s a lot of trust,” said Grant. “There’s a lot of trust. I’m happy with my decision. I wouldn’t change. I’d go back and do the same thing over and over.”
- One pleasant surprise for the Pistons this season has been the play of Sekou Doumbouya, who has shown flashes of brilliance in 49 games off the bench. As the season winds down, Detroit hopes the 20-year-old can finish strong, Langlois writes in a separate story. “Sekou is one of our best talkers,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s been in the system. He understands it. I see the carryover from last year to this year and he’s out there explaining to guys. That’s good to see, also.”
- At 29-33, the Pacers have endured a frustrating season that has only been exasperated by all their opening night starters currently being sidelined, Scott Agness of The Fieldhouse Files writes (subscription required).
- Bulls guard Zach LaVine joined his teammates on the bench on Friday, marking his first big step in returning to the club. He has missed Chicago’s nine games due to being in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and while he has cleared quarantine, it remains to be seen when he’ll be back on the court, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes.
- Within his weekly “10 Things” article for ESPN.com (Insider link), Zach Lowe highlights the play of Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, who recently signed a long-term extension, and Pacers forward Doug McDermott, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Holiday is having arguably the best season of his career, while McDermott has developed into a strong finisher at the rim and deserves Sixth Man of the Year consideration, Lowe writes.
- Pacers rookie guard Cassius Stanley is on a two-way contract that expires at season’s end, prompting J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star (subscription required) to wonder if the team should be giving him more playing time to determine whether he’s worth a longer-term investment. Stanley has logged just 54 total minutes in 19 games this season.
It’s fair to say the Pacers have underachieved relative to expectations this season. After going 45-28 and finishing fourth in the East a year ago, the team is currently just 29-32 and will likely have to win one – if not two – play-in games to earn a postseason berth next month.
Still, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard isn’t disappointed with his team’s play, telling Bob Kravitz of The Athletic that it’s hard to properly evaluate the roster, given the outsized impact the coronavirus has had on the season, as well as all the injuries Indiana has endured.
“This season has been unlike any I’ve been a part of, and it’s proven to be challenging on many fronts. I’ve got a lot of scar tissue from this season; we all do,” Pritchard said. “In some ways, it’s been less about basketball than a lot of other things. But look at it, we’re a few games within fourth, and to go through what we’ve gone through as far as injuries, I want to see how this one plays out. We could have shut it down, but we’re playing hard; we’re just severely undermanned right now.
“We’re not that far away,” Pritchard added, “but because of all these injuries now, it feels like we’re miles away.”
As a result, Pritchard tells Kravitz that he still isn’t sure whether the roster will require a major overhaul or just a few tweaks this offseason. He’s also not ready to draw any conclusions about the long-term viability of the Turner/Sabonis frontcourt pairing.
“I’d like to answer that after the playoffs because that’s when it really counts,” Pritchard said of the two centers. “Hopefully, Myles will be back in time.”
Here are a few more highlights from Kravitz’s Q&A with the Pacers’ president, which covers plenty of ground and is worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber:
On Aaron Holiday‘s down year:
“We still believe in Aaron. Sometimes in a year, for whatever reason, you prepare but you have some guys playing very well at his position. I know (head coach) Nate (Bjorkgren) wants to reward the guys who played well this year, and Aaron simply hasn’t played as well. We’ll need him at some point in time, believe me. Players who stay prepared almost invariably get another shot, and he’ll get another shot, but he’ll have to hit shots and play within our system.”
On whether there are any regrets about firing Nate McMillan, who is thriving in Atlanta:
“Look, Nate is a great friend; we worked together for more than a decade. I want him to do well. He’s got a really good team, good chemistry, and they’re going to be a tough team in the playoffs. But no animosity and no regret at all. This is a transitory business. If we were dismayed by people leaving us and having success elsewhere, what would that say about us? I’m happy for Nate, just the way I’m happy for Frank Vogel.”
“I think they’re all independent situations, first of all. We obsess with making this a great place for players. … Great training facility, the best doctors in the world. And look, Malcolm (Brogdon) chose us, the Rookie of the Year chose us, and he’s had a great experience.
“We get it; we’re not for everybody. We don’t have the beach and the big city, but it’s a great place to play basketball in front of people who truly appreciate when you play the right way. Great fans, educated fans, great facilities, and I always say this now: Players get marketed all around the world. Social media could be the great equalizer. You can be in a smaller market and still have a national profile.”
On how to deal with the challenge of being a small-market team:
“We’ve done some things well and haven’t done some things well, but for us, it almost feels like you have to play a perfect game to be hyper-competitive. There are teams who can make personnel mistakes; we really can’t. Our biggest source of players is trades, and that’s really tough. Trades are challenging. I feel good about the ones we’ve made, and we have to draft better, and we will, but I still have a ton of confidence in our scouting staff. It’s just, yes, it’s a major challenge given the fact that the bifurcation of the top teams seems to be getting greater in comparison with the mid- and small-market teams. That’s something we’re always going to have to deal with.”
The Hornets will see if LaMelo Ball and Malik Monk are ready for game action during their off days Thursday and Friday, according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Ball had surgery March 23 on his fractured right wrist, while Monk has been sidelined since April 1 with a sprained ankle. Both players will take part in 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 scrimmages over the next two days.
The news isn’t as encouraging for Gordon Hayward, Bonnell adds. He’s still wearing a protective boot on his injured right foot and there’s no timetable for him to start working out. “Gordon is not there yet,” coach James Borrego said.
Here are some more injury-related notes and updates:
- The Hawks are getting a second opinion on Kevin Huerter‘s sprained left shoulder, tweets Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Huerter underwent an MRI this week, but the results haven’t been announced.
- Pacers forward T.J. Warren, who will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot, began jogging today on a treadmill, according to Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files (Twitter link). Coach Nate Bjorkgren called it “a big step” for the 27-year-old forward.
- Dennis Smith Jr. hasn’t been able to practice lately and the Pistons don’t have a timeline for him to return from left knee soreness, tweets Rod Beard of The Detroit News. “That’s why it’s so important that Killian (Hayes) came back,” said coach Dwane Casey. “… It’s unfortunate that he’s been hurt, but injury is something you have to deal with.”
- Marvin Bagley III could return soon from his hand injury, Kings coach Luke Walton tells James Ham of NBC Sports (Twitter link). Bagley has participated in some 3-on-3 games and may be ready to start playing in the next few days.
- The Pacers have played well using small-ball lineups with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner sidelined by injuries and that should help them in the postseason, according to J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star. “It makes us a better team because guys get time on the floor, which means, come playoff time, if those guys play they’ll be ready,” Justin Holiday said. “Whatever happens I think we’re going to be ready for it.”
Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis will sit out tonight’s game with the Lakers, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Porzingis sprained his left ankle in Thursday’s win over L.A., and even though the injury isn’t considered to be a long-term issue, Dallas is being careful with Porzingis.
“We believe (the ankle sprain) is not serious,” coach Rick Carlisle said, “but the decision for him to sit tonight was not a close call.” (Twitter link)
There’s more injury news from around the league:
- The Lakers will have Anthony Davis on a 25-minute restriction for tonight’s game, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN (Twitter link). Davis played 17 minutes Thursday as he returned to the court for the first time in nine weeks and felt “minimal soreness,” said coach Frank Vogel. The Lakers plan to use Davis in both halves tonight.
- Bulls guard Zach LaVine won’t be available for the rest of the team’s road trip, tweets K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. That will include games tonight and Monday in Miami and Wednesday at New York. LaVine has been in the league’s health and safety protocols for the past 10 days, and coach Billy Donovan said the All-Star guard is still under quarantine.
- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra refused to comment on whether Tyler Herro aggravated his foot injury in Friday’s loss to the Hawks, tweets Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel. Herro, who won’t be active tonight, had sat out the prior two games before playing against Atlanta.
- Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell had his sprained ankle re-evaluated Friday, tweets Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Mitchell is making progress, but will miss at least one more week.
- Pacers forward T.J. Warren, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot, has rejoined the team, according to Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files (Twitter link), who adds that Warren is no longer wearing a walking boot.