Kevin Pritchard

Pacers Rumors: Bjorkgren, Warren, Bayno, D’Antoni, More

Amid multiple reports suggesting that Nate Bjorkgren‘s job as the Pacers‘ head coach is in danger, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report is the latest journalist to take a deep dive into what appears to be an untenable situation in Indiana.

One league executive who has previously worked with Bjokrgren told Bleacher Report that the Pacers’ coach is “completely out of his element as a leader,” and Fischer suggests that Bjorkgren’s struggles could even end up jeopardizing the job security of veteran executives Kevin Pritchard and Chad Buchanan as well.

As Fischer explains, the Pacers may not have done enough research during the hiring process into Bjorkgren’s background or how he treated people. The head coach has been described as abrasive, particularly with assistant coaches and other staffers, with Domantas Sabonis even encouraging Bjorkgren on one occasion to be kinder to the team’s staff, per Fischer.

Bjorkgren also reportedly has a tendency to become overly agitated by minor issues, such as a ball rack being out of place during practice or a team flight being delayed for de-icing purposes, Fischer adds.

“When he was hired, I was surprised, because he’s not the easiest to work with just on anything,” said one player who previously played for Bjorkgren in the G League. “He’s kind of stubborn, won’t listen, even though it might be good conversation. He’s a micromanager and he’s not for everyone.”

Here’s more on Bjorkgren and the Pacers:

  • Sources tell Fischer that T.J. Warren, who played for the Suns when Bjorkgren was an assistant in Phoenix, requested a trade following the Pacers’ hiring of the head coach. However, a person with knowledge of the situation tells J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star “that’s BS” (Twitter link).
    [UPDATE: Fischer has now cited a source close to the situation who says Warren never formally requested a trade.]
  • When assistant coach Bill Bayno resigned in February, mental health issues were cited as the reason for his departure. Fischer hears that the veteran assistant left in large part because he was no longer able to work with Bjorkgren.
  • Assistant coach Greg Foster – who received a one-game suspension for a sideline altercation with Goga Bitadze – has also “grown agitated” by Bjorkgren’s attitude toward the staff, according to Fischer. “He doesn’t mind embarrassing his coaches,” one league executive said of the Pacers’ head coach.
  • Bjorkgren’s reluctance to call out his top veterans has impacted his credibility in the locker room, sources tell J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star, who says that even if the Pacers ultimately decide to retain their head coach for 2021/22, there will almost certainly be an overhaul of his coaching staff. Some of those coaches may want to leave voluntarily, Michael notes.
  • If Bjorkgren is let go, Mike D’Antoni is expected to once again be a candidate for the Pacers’ head coaching job, sources tell Fischer. D’Antoni drew interest from Indiana last fall.

Pacers’ Pritchard Talks Holiday, McMillan, Small Market, More

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.”

T.J. Warren has been sidelined for nearly the entire season, while Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, and Caris LeVert are among the others who have missed time due to injuries.

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.”

On Paul George and Victor Oladipo both pushing their way out of Indiana, and whether there’s concern about a perception that stars don’t want to play for the Pacers:

“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.”

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Sixers, VanVleet, Anunoby

New Nets coach Steve Nash envisions a versatile role for Kevin Durant that would have him see time at all five positions, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Nash discussed Durant during an appearance this week on J.J. Redick‘s podcast, saying Durant has the skills to succeed anywhere on the court.

“Kevin, with his length, is a matchup problem for everyone,” Nash said. “(Kyrie Irving’s) excellent off the ball. Kevin can play all five positions, and I plan to use him in all five positions. I get excited to use some of the guys on the roster: Caris (LeVert), (DeAndre Jordan), Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris.”

Scouts and other league personnel who spoke to Lewis believe Brooklyn could have some devastating lineups with Durant at center, especially in a conference where the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam have succeeded in that role.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers are considering a front office shakeup that would include the addition of a president of basketball operations, sources tell Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. One source indicated that Trail Blazers executive Neil Olshey may be interested, but only if he has complete control over basketball decisions as both president and general manager. Rumors have surrounded former Hawks executive Danny Ferry, but the Sixers are denying that he’s a potential candidate. A source says the team plans to ask about Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Pacers president Kevin Pritchard, but the source doesn’t expect either to wind up in Philadelphia.
  • Fred VanVleet will be the Raptors‘ priority in free agency and they’ll find it expensive to keep him, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Smith estimates that Toronto could could give VanVleet a new deal starting at around $20MM per season while still retaining a maximum salary slot for the summer of 2021. He adds that the team may have to sacrifice Norman Powell or convince him to rework his contract to make that happen.
  • Raptors small forward OG Anunoby has signed with Klutch Sports Group, the agency announced on Twitter.

Kevin Pritchard Discusses Pacers’ Coaching Search

Communication and flexibility will be important as the Pacers begin their search for a new head coach, president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard tells Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files.

The campus environment at Disney World gave Pritchard and GM Chad Buchanan a chance to spend more time than usual around their players and get an inside look at where they believe the franchise is headed. That experience led to the decision to replace Nate McMillan.

“As we were going through the playoffs, it was more challenging to see our players and our staff have felt like, at times, we look defeated,” Pritchard said. “That is something I don’t ever want to see on our players’ face. We want to be better than getting swept in the playoffs and when you look at the playoffs, I wanted to have some hope that we could win a game.”

McMillan, who had a year left on his contract, had been with the franchise since 2013 when he was hired as an assistant coach. He ranks fourth among Pacers coaches in career wins, but Agness notes that this season was difficult for the entire organization.

Indiana began the season with nine new players on its roster, including first-round pick Goga Bitadze, who had to miss Summer League because of a work visa issue. There were constant questions about injured guard Victor Oladipo, who didn’t return until late January, and Pacers players had nearly 200 total games missed due to injuries. The chaos of the hiatus and the restart led to another playoff sweep, the third in the past four years, which sealed McMillan’s fate.

Pritchard said he could see “some relief” in McMillan’s eyes when he broke the news.

“As we end the season, it feels like the last couple years, it’s ended with a bad taste in our mouth,” Pritchard said. “And for me, that is something that there had to be some changes. I take full responsibility.”

Indiana will look for a coach with a more creative offensive scheme and a willingness to take chances with young players. Agness notes that T.J. Leaf‘s season was virtually wasted with just 28 games played. Edmond Sumner wasn’t used in Games 2 and 3 against Miami, while Bitadze didn’t play at all in the postseason as Tyler Herro, who was taken five picks earlier, averaged 16.5 PPG in the series.

“Sometimes you have to make some sacrifices,” Pritchard said. “You have to play some players in the regular season to develop, and then ultimately be prepared more for the playoffs than you were for the regular season. And so that’s sort of out-of-the-box thinking is something that we we desperately need.”

Knicks Rumors: Russell, Morris, Trier, Caruso, Ujiri

The Knicks continue to pursue Warriors point guard D’Angelo Russell with the trade deadline 24 hours away, according to Newsday’s Steve Popper and Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter links).

Reports earlier in the week had revealed the Knicks’ interest in Russell. However, those stories were published prior to Steve Mills‘ ouster from the front office, so it wasn’t clear if the remaining group – led by interim head of basketball operations Scott Perry – would continue to go after the fifth-year guard.

While today’s reports confirm that the Knicks remain interested in Russell, Charania hears that New York’s proposed package haven’t been enough to close the gap and meet Golden State’s asking price.

As we noted last night when we checked in on the Timberwolves’ pursuit of Russell, the Warriors were said to be seeking at least one of Minnesota’s own unprotected first-round picks — preferably in 2021, which is expected to be a strong draft than 2020. The Wolves were reportedly dangling Brooklyn’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round selection and their own protected ’20 first-rounder as part of their offer.

Presumably, the Warriors will be seeking at least one unprotected Knicks first-rounder in talks with New York. However, there’s no consensus within the Knicks’ front office on the team’s willingness to give up first-rounders to land D-Lo, tweets Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Newsday’s Steve Popper (Twitter link) is hearing that Marcus Morris will be moved before the deadline. Marc Stein of The New York Times conveys a similar sentiment, tweeting that the Knicks know they can trade Morris and now it’s just a matter of where.
  • In addition to touching base about Kyle Kuzma, the Knicks and Lakers have also discussed Allonzo Trier and Alex Caruso, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv. Those talks took place before Mills’ ouster and didn’t advance, sources tell Begley.
  • According to Marc Berman of The New York Post, Knicks owner James Dolan would like to move fairly quickly on the team’s front office search, possibly so there’s a new president in place for a head coaching search in the spring.
  • An in-season search would reduce the likelihood of the Knicks landing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Berman notes. However, a source suggests to Berman that might be okay with Dolan, who values loyalty and may not want to push Ujiri to break his contract in Toronto. Dolan may also been wary of Ujiri using the Knicks for leverage in extension talks with the Raptors, the source tells Berman.
  • Within a separate SNY.tv article examining possible front office targets for the Knicks, Begley writes that R.C. Buford (Spurs) and Kevin Pritchard (Pacers) aren’t realistic options. Both executives are on long-term deals and Buford has a CEO title in San Antonio.
  • Recently hired by the Knicks as a brand consultant, Steve Stoute is a “prominent voice” within the organization right now, according to Popper (Twitter link), who says Stoute is involved in the front office search.

Eastern Notes: George, Pacers, Ujiri, Heat, Beal, Love

It has been nearly two-and-a-half years since Paul George was traded by the Pacers to the Thunder, but fans in Indiana still booed George – now on Clipper – on Monday whenever he touched the ball, as if this was his first game back, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. George, who said he wasn’t surprised by being booed, also hinted that the full story of his departure from Indiana still hasn’t come out.

“You know, someday I’ll do a tell-all and tell the leading events of how I left Indiana,” George said. “And I promise you, I’m not the one to boo.

“… I’m not gonna share the teaser,” George later said. “… I like being the villain. I’m here two nights out of the year. The people they should boo is here a lot longer than I am.”

The George trade was one of the first major moves made by Kevin Pritchard, who became Indiana’s head of basketball operations during the spring of 2017. While George implied on Monday that the Pacers franchise may be partially to blame for the circumstances surrounding that trade, he declined to criticize Pritchard, as Youngmisuk notes.

“I’m not going to bad-mouth KP,” George said when told that Pritchard said George’s trade request felt like a punch in the gut. “That’s just Kevin’s side of the story.”

Here’s more from around the East:

  • Howard Beck of Bleacher Report recently reported that Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri turned down a lucrative extension offer, but Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca hears from sources that the offer didn’t happen. Still, Grange wouldn’t be surprised if Ujiri is interested in testing the “free agent” market at some point, and believes the Knicks could be a real threat to lure him away from Toronto.
  • The Heat would have had serious interest in Bradley Beal if the Wizards had made him available in trade talks or if he had reached free agency in 2021. Instead, Beal re-upped with Washington, signing a two-year extension earlier this year. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald caught up with Beal to ask the Wizards’ star whether he considered the possibility of a move to the Heat before inking that new deal. Beal’s answer? “Yes and no.” Jackson has the full story and quotes.
  • Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald explains why the Celtics shouldn’t be viewed as a potential suitor for Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, who is reportedly on the trade block.

Pacers Notes: Brogdon, Warren, Pritchard, Roster Moves

The 2019/20 season will only be his fourth NBA campaign and his first with the Pacers, but 26-year-old guard Malcolm Brogdon is Indiana’s bona fide team leader in his inaugural season in Indianapolis, writes Mark Montieth of Pacers.com.

At least one assistant coach has already gone as far as comparing Brogdon to perhaps the greatest player in Pacers’ history, five-time NBA All-Star Reggie Miller“I haven’t seen anybody like that in practice since Reggie,” said assistant coach Dan Burke, who has been with the Pacers for nearly 20 seasons.

Likewise, head coach Nate McMillan sees an extension of himself on the court with Brogdon, something every coach longs for in a point guard.

“He’s doing a good job of coming in and competing and getting the guys to compete,” McMillan said “He understands the position he’s in and what’s required of that. He’s communicating with all of our guys. He communicates with the guys he’s playing with and the guys he’s playing against (in practice)… it just comes natural for him.”

There’s more tonight out of Indianapolis:

  • A versatile player, offseason free agent acquisition T.J. Warren has the ability to line up as a power forward in a small-ball lineup, but the Pacers’ focus for him is to excel at small forward, reports J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star.
  • Scott Agness of The Athletic writes that the Pacers have elevated their emphasis on the international game and its players since president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard, who played professionally in Spain, Italy, and Germany, was promoted to run the front office back in 2017. “I like the way Europe does it,” Pritchard said. “They put the emphasis early on learning the game versus playing and winning immediately.”
  • As we relayed earlier today and yesterday, the Pacers have made several roster moves in the past 48 hours. In addition to exercising rookie scale options on both Aaron Holiday and T.J. Leaf, the club replaced forward Jakeenan Gant with guard Walt Lemon Jr. on its 20-man roster.

Pacers’ Pritchard Talks Matthews, Roster, More

While Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard makes the final call on the team’s personnel moves, a pair of Indiana’s former heads of basketball operations remain very much in the loop, Pritchard tells Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.

According to Pritchard, he works with advisors Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird on a “daily basis.” Calling both men “true mentors,” Pritchard notes that Walsh is on the office every day, while Bird gets “very involved” in the summer and fall.

Within his conversation with Aschburner, Pritchard touched on a number of other subjects, discussing the Pacers’ approach to free agency, the excellent job head coach Nate McMillan has done with the club, and Victor Oladipo‘s rehab, among other topics. For Pacers fans, the conversation is worth reading in full, but here are a few highlights from the team’s president of basketball operations:

On the sales pitch that allowed the Pacers to land Wesley Matthews last month:

“He saw opportunity, right? We needed a starting two. And there was continuity with just knowing Nate and how he coaches, his style [Matthews and McMillan were together in Portland for a season and a half]. And from what he’s told us, he saw us, he played against us and he liked the way we play. But it became a recruiting process, for sure. He had a lot of options.”

On what the Pacers have gotten out of 2018’s free agent signees (Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, and Kyle O’Quinn):

“They fit in nicely. They all made it clear that they wanted to come in, play a role and do it as well as they possibly could. Kyle is a great backup center, and we’ve asked him to be the third center. We’ve needed him, because Sabonis is going to be out for a little bit. McDermott, as he gets comfortable here and learns to seek out his offense, the better he’s going to be. And Tyreke, he’s had some ups and downs. But when he plays well, we’re a different team. We need that punch off the bench, and that’s something we focused on when he got him.”

On the impact of having so many free-agents-to-be on the roster:

“It’s good in that guys are pretty motivated. I’ve believed in this team. We’re going to be challenged in the playoffs and it will be fun watching them, but we’ve got to get there first. I don’t want to look too far in the future. We know we’re going to have some tough decisions this summer. But I believe 40% of the league will be free agents, so it’s not only our issue. It’s a league issue and an opportunity.”

On the Pacers’ long-standing aversion to tanking (Indiana hasn’t won fewer than 32 games in a season since 1988/89):

“You’ve got to give [team owner] Herb [Simon] a ton of credit. He’s not the kind of guy who says, ‘Let’s tank and look to the future in three years.’ We’re not about that. “

Central Notes: Kennard, Krauskopf, Evans, Dunn

Luke Kennard may be the latest Pistons wing to play his way out of the starting small forward spot, as I noted in the Detroit Free Press. Kennard has scored just 24 points over the last six games after a 28-point outing in Philadelphia. The second-year swingman out of Duke was benched during the second half of a 98-95 home loss to Atlanta on Sunday. Stanley Johnson and Glenn Robinson III were also ineffective in that role. “There’s nothing maddening about it at all (but) you want that person to step in and produce,” coach Dwane Casey said of finding someone to fill that slot. “Give some production, whether it’s energy defensively, energy offensively, running the floor, cutting, just playing basketball. That’s what you’re searching for in that position.”

We have more from around the Central Division:

  • Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard said that hiring Kelly Krauskopf as an assistant GM had nothing to do with making history, according to Dana Hunsinger Benbow of the Indianapolis Star. Krauskopf became the first women to hold that NBA front office position in a modern-day format in that she will be involved in personnel decisions. “It’s going to be made a big deal about (her being a woman) and the truth is she is just the best person for the job, period, end of discussion,” he said. “It doesn’t matter (her) gender, race, anything like that. She was the best person for the job.” Krauskopf spent 17 years as GM of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.
  • Pacers guard Tyreke Evans has missed the last two games due to knee soreness and will be a game-time decision against Atlanta on Wednesday. Evans explained to Scott Agness of The Athletic that he aggravated an old right knee injury when the Sixers’ Joel Embiid fell on him during a collision. Fluid built up and Evans, who had three operations on that knee in 2016, needed to have the knee drained.
  • Bulls point guard Kris Dunn has taken a bigger offensive role with Zach LaVine sidelined by an ankle injury, Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago writes. Dunn is averaging 17.8 PPG and 6.0 APG over the last five games with LaVine out of commission. “Whatever gets the win. If I’ve got to be aggressive on the offensive side looking at the rim a little bit more or getting my guys involved,” he said. “I’m a pass-first point guard but it’s the NBA.”

Pacers President Kevin Pritchard On Contracts, Cap Room And Developing Players

The decision to implement the salary cap increase all at once instead of smoothing it out over several years has led to increased player movement across the NBA, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard contends in an interview with Scott Agness of The Athletic.

Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young are the only players on Indiana’s roster who were with the team two seasons ago, and Pritchard said that is becoming a trend around the league. Teams are opting for shorter contracts, which preserve future cap space at the expense of unity.

“Two collective bargaining agreements ago, I remember you could do six- and seven-year contracts,” he said. “And now we’re talking about over half our team this year is on a one-year deal. So I think it has some uniquenesses, but it also has some challenges. One of the big things for us is we do want to start establishing continuity.

“Every year is its own set of challenges and opportunities. The thing about this team is we brought back the top seven and we feel like we added to the bench. We’re going to miss some players, there’s no doubt. We’re going to miss Lance [Stephenson]. We’re going to miss Al [Jefferson]. We’re going to miss Joe [Young] and Glenn [Robinson III]. Those guys were part of a culture that was very unique and will be hard to duplicate.”

Pritchard shares his thoughts on several topics in the wide-ranging interview:

On the team’s projected $57MM in cap room next summer:

“I would say that adding really good players is always the highest priority. So sometimes flexibility is good and sometimes you’d just rather have the better player. For us, there are so many free agents next summer. But if things go as planned and we have a great season, our free agents become the priority.”

On the progress of Victor Oladipo, who was named the league’s Most Improved Player last season: 

“He’s done an amazing job of trusting his teammates, of making that right play at the right time. Part of that was [GM] Chad [Buchanan] and I and [senior VP of basketball operations] Peter [Dinwiddie] trying to put a more complimentary team around him — with him making reads and then elevating everyone else. At the end of the day, he’s a star and stars can do it for themselves. He’s got to raise the level of everybody else around him.”

On the development of the team’s younger players:

“I looked at the way Villanova has been evaluating what they do player wise. They bring a guy in and it’s like they redshirt all of their freshman. That’s kind of how I felt with T.J. [Leaf] last year. Draft T.J., have him work on his body, and then he’ll be more prepared for an NBA season versus just throwing him at the wolves and seeing what happens. I feel like T.J. worked on his body, he gained 17 pounds, physically he’s more ready, mentally he’s more ready. And so now he has a better chance for success long term.”

On LeBron James‘ departure to the Western Conference:

“He put a pretty big road block in front of the Pacers, but not just the Pacers. A lot of other teams, too. He’s beaten us five times in the playoffs. That’s not a lot of fun.”