Nate Bjorkgren

Nate Bjorkgren Back With Raptors As Assistant

The Raptors are listing Nate Bjorkgren as an assistant coach, Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca tweets.

Bjorkgren was at Toronto’s training camp as a consultant and it seems the club has rehired him in his previous capacity. Bjorkgren was on Nick Nurse’s staff until he was hired as the Pacers’ head coach prior to last season. His tumultuous one-year stint ended in June when the team fired him.

Bjorkgren reportedly had major communication issues with players and coaches alike in Indiana and the front office opted to bring back Rick Carlisle for a second stint. Bjorkgren had one more guaranteed year on his contract.

He was an assistant on Nurse’s Team Canada staff this summer.

Raptors Notes: Roster Battles, Mykhailiuk, Bjorkgren, Banton, Achiuwa

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse cited COVID-19 and injuries as reasons why the battles for the last two or three spots on the team’s regular season roster are more important than ever, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. As Nurse pointed out, even if a player makes the team as a 13th or 14th man, he may end up being thrust into a rotation role if others ahead of him are sidelined.

Ishmail Wainright, Yuta Watanabe, Freddie Gillespie, Sam Dekker, and Isaac Bonga are the five players believed to be fighting for spots on the 15-man squad. Toronto has 12 players with fully guaranteed salaries — assuming none of those players are traded or cut, there would be room on the roster for up to three players from that five-player group.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk said on Friday that he received interest in free agency from the Trail Blazers and Lakers before deciding to sign with the Raptors, per Eric Koreen of The Athletic (Twitter link). Mykhailiuk likes the opportunity he has to earn playing time and develop his game in Toronto.
  • Former Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren is at the Raptors’ training camp as a consultant, tweets Koreen. Bjorkgren was an assistant on Nurse’s staff before being hired by Indiana.
  • Raptors rookie Dalano Banton has been able to recognize two dreams this year — being selected in the NBA draft and joining his hometown team in Toronto. Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press (via The Toronto Star) has the story on the first Torontonian to be drafted by the Raptors.
  • Doug Smith of The Toronto Star and Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca lay out what newly-acquired big man Precious Achiuwa can bring to the Raptors. The franchise is hoping that Achiuwa – who was the centerpiece of the Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade – can become a long-term cornerstone.

Central Notes: Millsap, Bulls Offseason, Simmons, Ehambe

With Paul Millsap agreeing to join the Nets, the Bulls don’t have a lot of attractive free agent options to add to their frontcourt depth, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago notes. Millsap strongly considered the Bulls but they now have to shift gears. They could bid for restricted free agent Jarred Vanderbilt, take a flier on D.J. Wilson or add an international player to fortify the power forward spot. They could also sign small forward James Ennis and use him in smaller lineups, Johnson adds. Otherwise, they may have to pursue a trade.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Bulls improved their roster with their busy offseason but it’s fair to wonder whether all of those changes made sense as a whole, Zach Harper of The Athletic opines. While they have upgraded in the backcourt and the wing spots with the additions of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and DeMar DeRozan, their frontcourt options have thinned.
  • Pursuing a trade for Ben Simmons doesn’t make sense for the Pistons, James Edwards of The Athletic contends. In a deal with the Sixers, Detroit would likely have to part with Jerami Grant and at least one of their top young players as well as draft picks, and adding Simmons’ contract would limit their flexibility to make other moves. It also wouldn’t help their issues regarding 3-point shooting, Edwards adds.
  • Moses Ehambe is grateful he got the opportunity to be an assistant with the Pacers, though he was not retained in the aftermath of Nate Bjorkgren’s departure, Scott Agness of FieldhouseFiles writes. “This is where you want to be,” Ehambe said in the comprehensive interview. “Now it’s about staying.”

Eastern Notes: Griffin, Nets, Harris, Cavs, Raptors Staff

The Nets plan to re-sign unrestricted free agent Blake Griffin and are also looking to add depth at center as the free agency period begins, general manager Sean Marks told ESPN’s Malika Andrews and other media members (Twitter link). Money does not appear to be an object — Marks said the Nets are “married to the luxury tax” and owner Joe Tsai is willing to spend whatever it takes to win.

We have more from the Eastern Conference

  • A report that the Sixers are shopping Tobias Harris isn’t accurate, a source familiar with the situation tells Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice. It’s likely that the Harris trade rumor is old news, since his name came up as part of a larger deal with the Rockets earlier this year before James Harden was dealt to the Nets.
  • Along with the pending acquisition of Ricky Rubio, the Cavaliers could look to add another veteran or two in free agency, particularly on the wing, Kelsey Russo of The Athletic writes. Doug McDermott and Reggie Bullock are two names to watch with Cleveland dangling all or part of its mid-level exception for their services. The Rubio deal with the Timberwolves can become official on Friday.
  • The Raptors have added Earl Watson, Trevor Gleeson and Nathaniel Mitchell to Nick Nurse‘s coaching staff. However, former assistant Nate Bjorkgren, who was fired after a season as the Pacers’ head coach, will not return to Toronto, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (Twitter links).

Olympic Notes: Butler, Olynyk, Birch, Bjorkgren, Jokic, Australia

Jimmy Butler will not play for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets. Butler had an invite but he battled through a variety of ailments this season and had a short turnaround between seasons after Miami surprisingly reached the NBA Finals last summer.

We have more info on this year’s Olympics:

  • The Rockets’ Kelly Olynyk and Raptors’ Khem Birch are among the prominent players not listed among the 24 players Team Canada submitted to FIBA in advance of its Olympic qualifier, Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet tweets. They’re both unrestricted free agents. The Grizzlies’ Brandon Clarke is also not on the preliminary list, Blake Murphy of The Athletic tweets. The 24-man roster can be found here.
  • Nate Bjorkgren, who was let go by the Pacers after one season as head coach, will join Nick Nurse’s Team Canada staff, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Bjorkgren was one of Nurse’s top assistants before his stint with Indiana.
  • MVP Nikola Jokic won’t play for the Serbian team at the Olympic qualifier due to an exhausting NBA campaign, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Jokic told Serbian news agency Tanjug, “Simply, the condition of my body requires a longer absence from the court for recovery.” The Denver Post story asserts Jokic won’t play in the Olympics even if his national team qualifies, while an ESPN story says it’s unclear if Jokic would participate in Tokyo.
  • The Australian national team will play exhibitions against Team USA, Nigeria and Argentina in Las Vegas before departing for Tokyo, David Aldridge of The Athletic tweets. The 19-man preliminary roster, which will be trimmed to 12, is expected to be loaded with NBA players, including Ben Simmons and Joe Ingles.

Pacers Rumors: Turner, Budenholzer, Shaw, Bjorkgren, More

Prior to the 2021 trade deadline, J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star reported that the Hornets, Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, and Pelicans were among the teams to express interest in Pacers big man Myles Turner. With Turner possibly available again this summer in trade talks, many of those teams could renew their interest in the NBA’s shot-blocking leader.

Exploring that possibility, Michael tweets that the Hornets and Timberwolves are the teams that seem to “really” want Turner. Michael speculates (via Twitter) that Charlotte would be the team most likely to make an aggressive trade offer for the 25-year-old if the Pacers are willing to move him.

Here’s more out of Indiana:

  • If the Bucks decide to move on from Mike Budenholzer after their season ends, he’d move to the top of the Pacers’ list of potential head coaching candidates, league sources tell J. Michael. Michael adds that G League Ignite coach Brian Shaw, formerly a Pacers assistant, is also expected to be a serious candidate for the job.
  • In a subscriber-only piece for The Indianapolis Star, Michael takes a look at the factors that led to Nate Bjorkgren‘s ouster after just one season. One league executive described Bjorkgren’s coaching style as “fake positivity,” according to Michael, who also provides details on Bjorkgren’s tendency to micro-manage and his failure to hold players accountable. Michael adds that the first-year coach “made sure those beneath him knew their place,” which lines up with a May report that stated Bjorkgren didn’t treat his assistants particularly well.
  • Although the Pacers haven’t ruled out blowing up their roster, team owner Herb Simon may be averse to that idea, according to Michael, who suggests the club seems likely to bring back Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, Malcolm Brogdon, and T.J. Warren.

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.

Pacers Fire Head Coach Nate Bjorkgren

12:15pm: The Pacers have officially announced in a press release that Bjorkgren won’t be retained for the 2021/22 season.

“The 2020/21 season was not what any of us hoped or anticipated it would be, and our results on the court certainly did not meet the standards for what our organization and our fans have come to expect,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said in a statement.

“We have determined this is the right time to move in a different direction, and on behalf of the Simon Family and the entire Pacers organization, I want to express my gratitude to Nate for his efforts leading our team. While we do not have a definite timetable for our search, we will move quickly to identify candidates who will make our team and our organization stronger.”


10:56am: The Pacers have decided to part ways with head coach Nate Bjorkgren after his first year on the job, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

According to Wojnarowski (Twitter link), Bjorkgren was informed today of the Pacers’ decision to let him go after he met with management on Tuesday. The team intends to seek out a more experienced, established head coach to replace Bjorkgren, who lost the locker room and “much of the organization” this season, Wojnarowski adds.

The Pacers moved on from Nate McMillan a year ago after a fourth consecutive first-round playoff exit in the hopes of hiring a new coach who would modernize the team’s offense and increase its ceiling. Although Bjorkgren did help improve Indiana’s offense, the defense took a major step backward and the former Raptors assistant reportedly had major communication issues with players and coaches alike.

Multiple reports during the final weeks of the regular season indicated that Bjorkgren was on the hot seat, and failing to secure a playoff spot in the play-in tournament presumably didn’t help his chances of sticking around.

Given how many injuries the Pacers dealt with during the 2020/21 campaign, it’s unclear how much more another coach could’ve gotten out of the roster. And since Bjorkgren had one more guaranteed year on his contract, there was a belief that the small-market Pacers may prefer to give him another chance rather than having to commit financially to a second head coaching contract. However, it sounds like the issues with Bjorkgren were too widespread to make continuing the relationship a viable choice.

Indiana becomes the fourth team to enter the market for a new head coach this spring, joining Boston, Portland, and Orlando. Because they conducted an extensive search for a coach in 2020 before landing on Bjorkgren, the Pacers may already have a leg up in this year’s search, having gotten familiar with several candidates who could be on their radar again. However, new candidates will be considered as well.

[RELATED: 2021 NBA Head Coaching Search Tracker]

One of those new candidates, who wasn’t available a year ago, is former Blazers coach Terry Stotts. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Pacers are expected to take a look at Stotts, while Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report says (via Twitter) league sources have increasingly identified Stotts as a leading candidate for the job in Indiana. Josh Robbins of The Athletic previously reported that league sources expect the Pacers to interview Steve Clifford following his exit from Orlando.

As for Bjorkgren’s future, Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca tweets that he wouldn’t be surprised if Nick Nurse‘s former assistant – and good friend – ends up returning to Toronto. The Raptors lost a top assistant midway through the 2020/21 season when Chris Finch was hired as Minnesota’s head coach, and Nurse strongly defended Bjorkgren amidst last month’s negative reports.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Central Notes: Lopez, Plumlee, Bjorkgren, Sabonis, Turner

Bucks center Brook Lopez will be facing his former team in the conference semifinals and Nets coach Steve Nash believes he could be a key player in the series, according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “He could be one of the wild cards,” Nash said. Lopez, who is signed through the 2022/23 season, averaged 15.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 1.3 BPG during the first-round sweep of the Heat.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Pistons raised a lot of eyebrows when they signed Nuggets reserve center Mason Plumlee to a three-year, $24MM+ contract last fall but Plumlee justified it with a productive season, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes. Plumlee averaged 10.4 PPG, a career-high 9.3 RPG and 3.6 APG while serving as a post facilitator and setting solid screens. He’ll remain a rotation fixture in his second season with the franchise, Langlois adds.
  • The Pacers’ offseason appears to be on hold until the front office decides what to do with head coach Nate Bjorkgren, Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files writes. It’s the biggest decision that team president Kevin Pritchard will make to date and he’s pondering all his options.
  • If the Pacers decide to break up their frontcourt duo of All-Star Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, it’s generally assumed the front office will move Turner. Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel (subscription required) explores a variety of metrics and concludes that it’s not a clear-cut decision.

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).