Kevin Pritchard

Larry Bird No Longer Has Active Role With Pacers

Larry Bird, who stepped down as the Pacers‘ president of basketball operations in 2017, has continued to work with the team in recent years in an advisory role, but he didn’t attend any of Indiana’s pre-draft workouts this spring, according to Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files, who hears that Bird no longer has an active role with the franchise.

“Yeah, he’s not active,” current Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard confirmed to Agness.

However, Pritchard suggested that he and head coach Rick Carlisle can still reach out to the Hall of Famer for advice or feedback if they need it.

“Larry is a good friend of mine and he’s a good friend of Rick’s,” Pritchard said. “At any time we need help, we know where to look. He’s always available.”

Bird, of course, was a Celtic for his entire career as a player, but the Indiana native – who played his college ball at Indiana State – spent most of his post-playing career with the Pacers.

Bird was named Indiana’s head coach in 1997, resigned after three years, then was hired as the team’s president of basketball operations in 2003. He stepped away for a year from 2012-13 due to health reasons, but otherwise held his position in the Pacers’ front office until 2017. After stepping down in ’17, he held the title of advisor to the president of basketball operations (Pritchard).

According to Agness, while Bird wasn’t an everyday presence around the team in recent years, he enjoyed attending pre-draft workout in May and June to evaluate prospects and also played a role in the rehiring of Carlisle in 2021. However, Agness says he didn’t see Bird at a practice or game at all during the 2021/22 season.

Central Notes: Ibaka, Bucks, LaVine, Pacers, Bagley

Discussing the decision to acquire Serge Ibaka at the trade deadline, Bucks general manager Jon Horst referred to the big man as “one of our top targets,” explaining that Ibaka will help the team become more versatile defensively, per Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

“I think our rebounding and our toughness and our presence at the rim is a little bit of our identity and our calling card, so adding players to that – kind of independent of how big they are – is always going to be something we’re going to try to do,” Horst said. “Last year, we did it in a 6’6″, 6’7” P.J. Tucker package. Now this year we did it in a 6’10” Serge Ibaka package.

“I see this as a similar move to P.J., having a chance to have a similar impact. I don’t know that Serge will guard the ones and the twos the way that P.J. Tucker did, but I think Serge can guard the fours and the fives in a different way than what P.J. Tucker did. So, it’s just versatility. We want to find the best seven, eight, nine guys who can play meaningful playoff minutes and our roster is so versatile, I think we can kind of do it in different ways.”

The Bucks, who came out of the deadline with three open spots on their 15-man roster, found themselves a little shorthanded on the wing and will reportedly bring in DeAndre’ Bembry as its 13th man. However, as Nehm relays, Horst said the club isn’t focused on specific positions to fill its 14th and 15th spots, and will target players who are the best fit from a talent and culture perspective.

“It could be guard help. It could be big help,” Horst said. “You know we’re always looking for shooting, we’re always looking for experience and toughness, defensive versatility, a lot of the things that Serge gave us in this move, I think we’ll look for more of that, but positionally, I’m really less worried about what that means positionally. I just think we’re really balanced and really deep.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Bulls head coach Billy Donovan confirmed on Monday that Zach LaVine will be out at least through the All-Star break, noting the guard’s his visit to a knee specialist in Los Angeles will take place on Tuesday, per Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link). Donovan suggested that the Bulls will have a better idea of the plan for LaVine after today’s evaluation.
  • Praising Kevin Pritchard for his impressive trade history, Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star argues that the Pacers ought to give their president of basketball operations a contract extension. Doyel thinks Pritchard may be in the final year of his current deal, though he acknowledges he’s not sure about that.
  • Pacers forward Oshae Brissett began the season on a non-guaranteed contract without a regular rotation role, but he has made impressive strides and shouldn’t be overlooked in conversations about the team’s young talent, writes James Boyd of The Indianapolis Star. Brissett, whose contract includes a minimum-salary team option for 2022/23, established new season highs with 22 points and 13 rebounds against Minnesota on Sunday.
  • Marvin Bagley III made a strong impression in his Pistons debut on Monday, putting up 10 points and eight rebounds in just over 20 minutes in his first game since January 29, says Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. “His timing’s off a little bit, understandably, but he has an advantage in the post with his length and his ability to score around the basket. I really like that,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “And first play down the floor, he took a charge. I love that. He’s a little rusty, but I like the way he plays.”

Central Notes: LeVert, Pritchard, Hill, Pistons

Pacers swingman Caris LeVert is attracting plenty of interest around the league, Jordan Schultz of Schultz Report tweets. His play-making and scoring abilities make him highly coveted, according to multiple sources who spoke with Schultz.

A report last week indicated the Pacers were looking at a roster shakeup, with LeVert among the players they’d be willing to move at the right price. He’s averaging 15.5 PPG and 3.1 APG in 28.1 MPG this season for Indiana, which has a 12-16 record. He has one more year left on his three-year, $52.5MM contract.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Pacers president Kevin Pritchard has apologized for his recent comment to The Athletic that the franchise is still trying to “manufacture that real star,” according to James Boyd of the Indianapolis Star. Pritchard took heat on social media for the comment, considering the team has a two-time All-Star in Domantas Sabonis. Pritchard wrote in part on Twitter, “First of all, I believe in all our players and hold them to the highest order. In all honesty, I believe we have multiple ‘stars’ on our team but we all know we need more. We have challenged our players to be better. … Could have used a better word than ‘stars’ probably.”
  • Bucks guard George Hill will not play on consecutive days in the near future, Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. Hill is returning from a hyperextended right knee and sat out the team’s game against Boston on Monday. Hill played the front end of the back-to-back on Sunday, going scoreless in 14 minutes against the Knicks.
  • The Pistons have lost 12 straight and their game at Chicago, scheduled for Tuesday, has been postponed due to COVID-19 issues among the Bulls. Detroit won’t play again until Thursday against Indiana and that’s just fine with coach Dwane Casey, Rod Beard of the Detroit News tweets“It gives us a couple of days of practice, which is very, very important,” Casey said.

Pacers Aren’t Looking To Replace Kevin Pritchard

The Pacers are among several teams making a coaching change this summer, but president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard is still safe in his job, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his latest podcast (hat tip to Real GM).

Pritchard has been assured that he will return for the 2021/22 season, according to Windhorst. He adds that team owner Herb Simon is very close to Pritchard and has no intention of replacing him any time soon.

There had been some speculation about Pritchard’s future after Indiana’s disappointing season and the decision to fire first-year coach Nate Bjorkgren. Pritchard recently accepted the blame for Bjorkgren’s failures, explaining that he decided to “take a risk” with an unconventional hiring.

Windhorst adds that the Pacers will seek a more experienced head coach this time. He also speculates that Pritchard may eventually leave on his own, saying, “I don’t know how much longer Kevin Pritchard wants to be in that job.”

A former NBA player and coach, Pritchard has been with the organization for a decade. He was hired in 2011 as director of player personnel and was later promoted to general manager before being put in charge of the front office in 2017.

Kevin Pritchard: “It’s My Fault” Nate Bjorkgren Didn’t Work Out

Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard accepts responsibility for Nate Bjorkgren’s unsuccessful stint as head coach, writes Bob Kravitz of The Athletic.

The team fired Bjorkgren on Wednesday after one season on the job, but the decision has seemed inevitable for weeks. Reports began circulating in early May that management was unhappy with Bjorkgren’s coaching style and his relationship with his players and staff.

With only one season remaining on his two-year contract, there was little reason not to move on.

“It’s my fault,” Pritchard said after the decision was made. “It’s our organization’s fault. We’ve got to do better.” He later added, “When we hired Nate, we wanted to take a risk. We wanted to try something new … I’m thankful for Nate; he worked his tail off. There were some things he did well. And there were some things I think he wished he had done differently.”

Bjorkgren, 45, is a former G League coach who spent two years as an assistant with the Suns and two years with the Raptors before the opportunity arose with Indiana. He led the Pacers to a 34-38 record and a spot in the play-in tournament despite significant injuries, but they were eliminated after two games.

Bjorkgren got a reputation in the locker room for not being tough enough, tweets J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star. Although there were numerous complaints about Bjorkgren, Michael adds there’s no evidence that the team’s best players, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, ever asked for him to be fired.

Pritchard repeatedly took matters into his own hands, Michael adds (via Twitter). A source said Pritchard went to the locker room following games at least four times this season to berate the players for what he viewed as poor effort. Pritchard had never done that before, according to Michael.

After being burned by the Bjorkgren hiring, Kravitz expects Pritchard to be far more conservative next time. Former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts has been mentioned as a candidate, and Kravitz suggests the team might also look at Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni, Clippers assistant Kenny Atkinson and Sixers assistant Dave Joerger, who all have previous head coaching experience.

Kevin Pritchard’s Job With Pacers Not In Danger

During his end-of-season press conference earlier this week, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard suggested that the team would have to make a decision not just on head coach Nate Bjorkgren, but on Pritchard as well. The veteran executive told reporters that he was being “evaluated” and that team owner Herb Simon would have to decide “if I’m fit for this job.”

The Pacers have made a decision, according to J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star, who hears that Pritchard met with Simon this week and will remain in his current position as Indiana’s president of basketball operations. His job isn’t in any danger at this point, Michael reports.

Pritchard, who joined the Pacers’ front office in 2011, was promoted to his current position in May of 2017. He immediately faced criticism for the July 2017 trade that sent Paul George to Oklahoma City for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo, but that move ultimately paid off, and he has continued to make savvy roster additions since then. The 2019 trade for T.J. Warren and the 2021 acquisition of Caris LeVert are among Pritchard’s most notable deals.

With a decision made on Pritchard, the Pacers figure to turn their attention to Bjorkgren, whose job is in jeopardy after a tumultuous and disappointing year in Indiana.

Injuries decimated the roster, and Bjorkgren did about as well as could be expected with the talent available. However, he also rubbed players and coaches the wrong way at times and reportedly had some communication problems, as well as a tendency to micro-manage.

Bjorkgren has one guaranteed year left on his contract with the Pacers, so if the club does make a change, ownership will have to pay two head coaches in 2021/22.

Pacers’ Pritchard Talks Bjorkgren, Frontcourt, FAs, More

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said no decisions have been made yet on the future of head coach Nate Bjorkgren, as J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star writes. Bjorkgren isn’t the only one whose future is up in the air, according to Pritchard, who pointed out that his own performance is still being evaluated by team ownership as well.

“I’m being evaluated. I’m being evaluated every day,” Pritchard said. “(Pacers owner) Herb (Simon) has to decide if I’m fit for this job and what I need to improve on. Then Nate and I will have a long conversation over many days on what he needs to improve on. … He is our coach as of now and I’ll have a fair discussion with him.”

The Pacers’ president of basketball operations acknowledged that Bjorkgren’s first year on the job was far from perfect. While Pritchard liked Bjorkgren’s handle on X’s and O’s, he said that the first-year coach did have a tendency to micromanage. Still, Pacers players didn’t express during their exit meetings that they were unhappy with Bjorkgren, Pritchard added.

Pritchard also pushed back against the idea that the Pacers hadn’t adequately done their homework on Bjorkgren before hiring him last summer, as Michael tweets.

We probably did 15 interviews around Nate,” Pritchard said. “We knew that he’s very specific in the way he likes things. We knew that. You got to give a coach some flexibility to do what he likes to do.”

Here’s more from Pritchard’s end-of-season presser:

  • Pritchard remains convinced that the Pacers can succeed without moving one of Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis (Twitter link via Michael). We like them both,” Pritchard said of the frontcourt duo. “They can definitely play together. You can stagger them.
  • Pritchard referred to Doug McDermott and T.J. McConnell as “core to what we’ve done” (Twitter link via Michael). Both players will be unrestricted free agents this summer, but it sounds like there’s mutual interest in continuing those relationships.
  • Although Pritchard stressed that the Pacers won’t be desperate to make deals this summer, he said he’d prefer not to get stuck in the “middle ground” between contending and rebuilding. I want to get in or get out,” Pritchard said, according to Michael (Twitter links). “Out means getting picks (and revamping the roster).”
  • Pritchard referred to the Pacers’ defense as “by far the most important thing that we have to take a look at,” as Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files tweets. It remains to be seen whether that means addressing the personnel or the coaching staff and schemes.
  • Caris LeVert is one Pacer who has yet to have his exit meeting with team management, since he remains in isolation due to the COVID-19 protocols and wants to conduct his meeting in person (Twitter link via Agness).

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.