Nate Bjorkgren

Pacers Notes: Assistants, HC Finalists, Nurse, Bjorkgren

Though newly-hired Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren will have the opportunity to fill out his bench with assistants of his selection, the Pacers ownership and front office may provide some input, according to J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star (Twitter link). As Michael points out, Indiana became familiar with many coaches around the NBA during its expansive coaching search, so the team will have plenty of intel about possible candidates to share with Bjorkgren.

There’s more out of Indiana:

  • Sixers assistant Ime Udoka, Pelicans assistant Chris Finch, and Heat assistant Dan Craig were among the other finalists for the Pacers’ head coaching job, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
  • Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was ebullient in his praise for his former assistant coach Bjorkgren, releasing a statement via Toronto’s team Twitter. “Nate and I have known each other for 30 years,” Nurse said. “I’ll miss having him next to me on our bench, and I know the Raptors players and staff will miss working with him every day.”
  • Blake Murphy of The Athletic unpacks the career of Bjorkgren, praising the new Pacers head coach’s apparent flexibility with regard to making offensive and defensive schemes fit his personnel.

Pacers Hire Nate Bjorkgren As Head Coach

12:42pm: The Pacers have made it official, announcing the hire of Bjorkgren in a press release.

“We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said in a statement. “This was an extensive and thorough search, and when we reached the conclusion, we felt strongly Nate is the right coach for us at the right time. He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous. We all look forward to a long, successful partnership in helping the Pacers move forward.”


11:15am: The Pacers are hiring Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren as their new head coach, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Bjorkgren got his start as a professional coach in the G League, where he served as an assistant on the Iowa Energy’s staff from 2007-11 under Nick Nurse. Bjorkgren subsequently held multiple head coaching jobs in the NBAGL before being hired by the Suns in 2015 as an assistant. In 2018, he rejoined Nurse as an assistant on Toronto’s staff.

Although Bjorkgren has won G League and NBA championships as an assistant and has been a head coach at the NBAGL level, this will be his first stint as the head coach of an NBA franchise. He’ll replace Nate McMillan, who was let go by the Pacers following the team’s fourth consecutive first-round exit this summer.

Following McMillan’s departure, Pacers management talked about wanting to hire a head coach who takes a “modern approach” to the game and has the ability to communicate with younger players.

According to J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star (Twitter link), Indiana took notice – particularly this summer in the bubble – of the way Nurse and his staff run the Raptors, including their ability to connect with players and give them more one-on-one attention. That’s something the team wanted in its new coach.

During the interview process, Bjorkgren sold the Pacers on his history of “innovation, adaptability and winning,” sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Before choosing Bjorkgren, Indiana put together a lengthy list of candidates for the head coaching vacancy, having reportedly held at least informal discussions with more than 20 contenders.

Chris Finch, Darvin Ham, Dan Craig, Chris Quinn, Mike D’Antoni, Dave Joerger, and Chauncey Billups were among the candidates said to have impressed the Pacers at some point during the process. Joerger has since agreed to join Doc Rivers‘ staff in Philadelphia, while Billups now appears set to join Tyronn Lue‘s staff with the Clippers.

As our head coaching search tracker shows, only three teams – the Rockets, Pelicans, and Thunder – are still seeking new head coaches now that the Pacers have found their man.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Rumors: Donovan, Billups, Bjorkgren, Walton

Bulls executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas made a personal connection with Billy Donovan that helped him land his new coach, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said this morning on “Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin” (video link). After Donovan left the Thunder two weeks ago, Karnisovas wanted to set up a meeting right away, according to Woj. The Bulls executive flew to Donovan’s Florida home a few days later and was able to sell him on the job.

Wojnarowski notes that Chicago has a recent history of taking chances on college coaches and veteran assistants, but has rarely hired someone with previous NBA head coaching experience. He adds that the Bulls have the talent to compete for a playoff spot in the East and Donovan could turn them into a desirable market for free agents.

Donovan said he didn’t want to be part of a rebuilding job in OKC, but Wojnarowski believes that will be less of a concern in Chicago. He said the Thunder are “cycling down” with a lot of veteran players and draft picks and may bottom out for a while before becoming good again. The Bulls have “players on the uptick” and could become contenders with the right coach.

There’s more on the NBA’s coaching carousel:

  • Wojnarowski passed along a few other rumors today (video link). The Sixers are ready to start bringing in coaching candidates and have already started conversations with Mike D’Antoni and Tyronn Lue. Chauncey Billups is a name to watch for the Pacers, who have shown a willingness to hire former players with no coaching experience and surround them with a veteran staff. The Pelicans have been doing a “ton of background” and haven’t started formal interviews yet. The Rockets like interviewing a lot of people whenever they have an opening and will consider various combinations of head coaches and lead assistants. Woj expects the interview process to be lengthy in both Houston and Oklahoma City.
  • Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told Sirius XM Radio that assistant Nate Bjorkgren has interviewed for the opening with the Pacers (Twitter link).
  • The Kings‘ front office shakeup shouldn’t affect the job security of coach Luke Walton, Sam Amick of The Athletic said on a recent HoopsHype podcast. Amick believes new head of basketball operations Monte McNair was told before he was hired that the organization is “pretty invested both financially and kind of spiritually in Luke.”

Atlantic Notes: Scott, Knicks, Donaldson, Raptors Staff

The Sixers are investigating an altercation between forward Mike Scott and an Eagles fan outside of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, Enrico Campitelli of NBC Sports relays. Scott, who re-signed with the Sixers in July on a two-year contract, is a Washington Redskins fan and posted pictures of himself wearing a Redskins jersey on social media. The altercation was captured on video from at least two angles.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Former University of Minnesota guard Dupree McBrayer, ex-Georgetown guard Trey Dickerson and guard Pe’Shon Howard, who played for the Capital City Go Go last season, worked out for the Knicks and scrimmaged against their players Monday, Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype tweets. Franklin “Frank Nitty” Session, who played for the Killer 3’s of the BIG3, was also involved in the scrimmage.  The Knicks have a two-way deal and Exhibit 10 contracts to offer, Kennedy notes.
  • New Raptors assistant coach Brittni Donaldson, who had been in the team’s front office, was originally hired by the organization after a stint with STATS LLC, as Zach Lowe of ESPN details. Donaldson made such a good impression analyzing the data and producing specific reports for NBA teams that the Raptors hired her. She will take the lead in translating analytic data for players and coaches but she’ll also scout opponents, debate rotations and X’s and O’s, and pitch strategic ideas, Lowe adds.
  • The Raptors officially announced the addition of 26-yard-old Donaldson as well as Jon Goodwillie to Nick Nurse’s staff in a team press release. Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariolo, Nate Bjorkgren, Patrick Mutombo and Jim Sann are the staff holdovers. Additionally, John Corbacio has been promoted to head video coordinator/assistant coach while Tyler Marsh, Fabulous Flournoy and Mark Tyndale will serve as assistant video coordinators/player development coaches. Goodwillie had been the team’s video coordinator since 2011.

Atlantic Notes: Irving, Loyd, Nader, Knicks’ Plans

Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving fully expects to be ready for the start of training camp, Jeff Goodman of ESPN tweets. Irving told Goodman he hadn’t yet participated in a 5-on-5 full contact scrimmage but he has been working out with his trainer. He underwent a surgical procedure on his left knee in early April in which he had two screws removed. At that time, the team provided a projected recovery time of four to five months.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Combo guard Jordan Loyd is finalizing a buyout agreement with Turkish club Darussafaka, which will allow him to sign a two-way contract with the Raptors, Sportando reports. Loyd, who played with the Raptors’ summer-league squad, spent last season in Israel after playing the previous season in the G League. The 6’4” Loyd made a strong impression on Toronto’s brass while mostly playing the point in Las Vegas, leading to the contract offer.
  • The Celtics will pay the Thunder $450K before December 2nd as part of the Abdel Nader trade, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders tweets. The Celtics, who will get a trade exception at the same amount, will essentially be paying the guaranteed portion of Nader’s contract, Pincus notes. The swingman, who was on the verge of being waived, was dealt to OKC for guard Rodney Purvis.
  • The current Knicks’ front office is not fully committed to signing two top-level free agents next summer and that could be a good thing, as Sean Deveney of the Sporting News explains. The Knicks would have to clear a lot of cap space to get into that position and would likely have to give up a lottery pick to move a bad contract, Deveney continues. With a young core that includes Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina, dumping a high pick to improve their free-agent market prospects sounds unwise, Deveney adds.
  • The Raptors have officially added Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariolo, Nate Bjorkgren and Phil Handy to Nick Nurse’s coaching staff, the team’s media relations department tweets.

Atlantic Notes: Bjorkgren, Lima, Bonga, Shamet

Nate Bjorkgren will join Nick Nurse’s coaching staff with the Raptors, Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun tweets. This confirms a previous Wolstat report that Bjorkgren, who worked on Nurse’s Iowa staff in the G League, could get an assistant coaching job.  Bjorkgren was an advance scout with the Raptors last season after being let go when the Suns fired Earl Watson.

In other news from around the Atlantic Division:

  • Power forward/center Augusto Lima is hopeful of signing a contract with the Raptors after having his rights renounced by Real Madrid, international expert David Pick tweets. The Brazilian-born Lima, 26, has been playing in the Euroleague since 2009 and went undrafted in 2013. He averaged 6.4 PPG and 5.8 RPG in 14 games with Liga ACB last season.
  • The Sixers will receive $1.5MM from the Lakers to complete the Isaac Bonga deal, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders tweets. The Lakers have a 45-day window from July 6 to get that done, Pincus adds. Philadelphia also received the Bulls’ second-round pick in the deal for the 39th pick of this year’s draft. The Sixers are paying $110K to the Nuggets as part of the Wilson Chandler trade, Pincus adds in another tweet. Denver generated a $12.8MM trade exception from the deal.
  • First-round pick Landry Shamet will not play in the Sixers’ remaining summer-league games due to a sprained right ankle, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. X-rays were negative and the 6’5” Shamet, the 26th overall pick out of Wichita State, will be reevaluated in approximately three weeks, Pompey adds.

Raptors Notes: Nurse, Casey, Messina, Valanciunas

Assembling a staff will be the first priority for Nick Nurse, who was officially hired as the Raptors’ new head coach earlier today, writes Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. With many of Dwane Casey’s assistants possibly following him to Detroit, Nurse, an assistant in Toronto for the past five years, may have to build his staff from scratch.

One possibility, according to Wolstat, is Nate Bjorkgren, a longtime friend who worked on Nurse’s staff at Iowa in the G League. Bjorkgren landed a job as an advance scout with the Raptors last fall after being let go when Earl Watson was fired in Phoenix. Wolstat also cites a report out of Italy that Spanish National team head coach Sergio Scariolo and former German National Team head coach Andrea Trinchieri are being considered. Nurse was a successful coach in Europe for 12 years before coming to the United States.

Current Raptors assistant Rex Kalamian isn’t expected to remain on staff, according to Wolstat, and may take a job with the Clippers if he doesn’t go to the Pistons.

There’s more tonight out of Toronto:

  • The relationship between Nurse and Casey became severely strained after the Raptors were bounced from the playoffs, according to Dave Feschuk of The Toronto Star, with a source telling Feschuk there’s “no love lost between ’em.” Casey gave Nurse his first NBA opportunity, hiring him out of the G League in 2013. Feschuk also questions whether it was the right choice to promote one of Casey’s assistants when fellow finalist Ettore Messina could have provided a new direction for the organization.
  • The Raptors’ front office was divided between Nurse and Messina over the weekend, tweets Josh Lewenburg of TSN Sports. Messina, an assistant with the Spurs, reportedly performed well in both interviews.
  • The decision to hire Nurse means center Jonas Valanciunas is unlikely to be traded, relays Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. Valanciunas worked frequently with Nurse during the season to try to develop a perimeter game, and that effort figures to expand now that Nurse is in charge.
  • The decision to replace Casey indicates that team president Masai Ujiri is feeling pressure to make changes, Deveney adds in the same piece. Ujiri’s job remains safe, but his preference to avoid major moves in the past hasn’t resulted in playoff success.

Suns Notes: Assistants, Watson, McDonough, Bledsoe

Three Suns assistants were fired Sunday along with head coach Earl Watson, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPNNate Bjorkgren, Mehmet Okur and Jason Fraser were all dismissed after a meeting with management Sunday night. Bjorkgren served as a bench coach, while Okur and Fraser were part of player development.

Bjorkgren is a former G League head coach and an original member of Watson’s staff. Okur, who played 10 years in the NBA, joined the Phoenix staff at the start of last season. Fraser had been with the team since 2015.

Tyrone Corbin will be promoted to lead assistant under interim coach Jay Triano. A former head coach with the Jazz and Kings, Corbin is in his second season on the Suns’ staff.

There’s more news this morning out of Phoenix:

  • Watson had a tumultuous relationship with GM Ryan McDonough during his two and a half seasons as head coach, Wojanarowski writes in the same story. They clashed frequently over a variety of topics, and owner Robert Sarver ultimately sided with McDonough. Watson, who leaves with an 87-142 record, offered a farewell message to the team and his fans. “Thank you to my Suns family, the Phoenix community and everyone who has supported me through this journey,” he said. “Life has unpredictable pivots that I embrace humbly and with great purpose.”
  • Suns star Eric Bledsoe received a lot of attention for Sunday’s tweet that read, “I don’t wanna be here,” but it wasn’t the first time he expressed a desire to get out of Phoenix, according to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link). The eighth-year guard met with with management before the season started to tell them he wanted to be dealt. On top of the losing, Bledsoe was unhappy when the team decided to shut him down because of soreness in his knees last March.
  • Bledsoe was excited about the possibility of being traded to Cleveland over the summer as part of a rumored deal for Kyrie Irving, according to Sam Amico of AmicoHoops. The teams were close to completing the trade and Bledsoe was “depressed” when it fell through, a source tells Amico.
  • The Suns’ problems stem more from the roster McDonough put together than Watson’s coaching, writes Mitch Lawrence of Forbes. Phoenix is trying to compete with four rookies and four second-year players, including a 19-year-old in Dragan Bender and three 20-year-olds. Lawrence states that Bledsoe and fellow veteran Tyson Chandler aren’t pleased with the youth movement. He also notes that McDonough hasn’t been able to find a franchise player despite picking fourth twice, fifth and eighth in the past five drafts.
  • Former Suns stars Steve Nash and Dan Majerle are among the potential replacements for Watson suggested by Jordan Greer of The Sporting News. Others are Adrian Griffin, Ime Udoka, Monty Williams, Sean Miller, Jerry Stackhouse, Mark Jackson and Brent Barry.

Pacific Notes: Gay, Pierce, Calathes, Kings, Suns

After Rudy Gay made some interesting comments that conveyed his dissatisfaction with his situation in Sacramento, Kings general manager Vlade Divac was asked about the disgruntled forward. As James Ham of CSN California details, Divac downplayed Gay’s comments about a lack of communication between him and the Kings as trade rumors swirl.

“He has my number,” the Kings GM said. “If I do something, I will call him. Obviously, if I didn’t call him, we didn’t do anything. … I was a player, 16-17 years in the league, nobody called me everyday and tell me what management is doing. Management was doing their job. If something big happened, they called and told me. Obviously, nothing big happened (so) I’m not going to call anybody.”

Let’s check in on a few other items from out of the Pacific division…

  • Paul Pierce has yet to formally announce a decision one way or the other about his future, and a source tells Brad Turner of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter links) that the veteran forward will take a few more weeks to weigh his options and make a final call. However, another source suggests to Turner that Pierce is planning to return to the Clippers for one more season.
  • As we heard earlier this week, the Kings made an effort to land Nick Calathes, but the former Grizzlies guard is “bound to return” to Panathinakos in Greece, according to international journalist David Pick.
  • The Suns have officially announced Earl Watson‘s coaching staff, confirming in a press release that Tyrone Corbin and Nate Bjorkgren will be assistants, with former Raptors coach Jay Triano serving as the club’s associate head coach.
  • After signing a three-year deal with the Suns, Jared Dudley has penned a piece for The Players’ Tribune about returning “home” and aiming to get the Suns back to their “2010 vibe.”

Suns Name Earl Watson Interim Coach

5:40pm: The move is official, the team announced.

5:04pm: The Suns have decided to name assistant coach Earl Watson as interim head coach, reports Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Watson beat out other reported candidates Corey Gaines and Nate Bjorkgren for the temporary position that came open when the team fired Jeff Hornacek on Monday.

Watson, 36, is not far removed from his playing career. He was in the league as recently as the 2013/14 season, when he appeared in 24 games with the Trail Blazers. He will make his head coaching debut on Tuesday against the Raptors.

Watson’s first coaching job was last season, when he was hired by the Spurs’ D-League affiliate, the Austin Spurs, as an assistant. He joined Hornacek’s staff prior to this season. Watson appeared in 878 games during his 13-year playing career with six different franchises, averaging 6.4 points and 4.4 assists.

The Suns added a veteran coach to help out Watson by hiring four-time NBA head coach Bob Hill as an assistant, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical tweets.

Watson will hire agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group as his agent, league sources informed Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (Twitter link). Paul also represents several prominent players, including LeBron James and John Wall, as well as Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe.

(Dana Gauruder contributed to this report.)