The Indiana Pacers entered the 2020-21 season with relatively modest expectations. After a four-game sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Pacers parted ways with veteran head coach Nate McMillan, but the team didn’t make sweeping changes to its roster. As such, Indiana entered the campaign with the seventh-highest projected win total in the Eastern Conference and, with only a handful of games remaining in the season, the Pacers sit in the No. 9 spot in the East.
With that as the backdrop, it would be fair to say that Indiana at least mildly underachieved, but it was still a bit surprising when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday that first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren faces an “uncertain” future beyond this season.
Bjorkgren has work to do on relationships with key players in his locker room, sources tell ESPN, and has thus far shown a willingness within the organization to try to address those issues. https://t.co/uNeOdHMlnQ
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 5, 2021
As Wojnarowski notes, it does not appear that Bjorkgren’s status is directly tied to underwhelming win-loss results, and that makes sense. After all, it would be rather aggressive to consider parting ways with a coach after one season, especially when the Pacers are still in line for a play-in spot with TJ Warren appearing in only four games and various other injury issues popping up throughout the campaign.
At the same time, any reference to “relationships with key players” should raise eyebrows, particularly for a first-time NBA head coach with a veteran-laden team. Bjorkgren’s predecessor also exited Indiana amid rumblings less than stellar locker room dynamics, but McMillan has been an NBA head coach for two decades and, after four consecutive first-round exits, the writing may have been on the wall. Still, it is a different thing entirely for a new voice to enter the fray, only to potentially wear out his welcome in (very) short order.
There is nothing definitive about this reporting but, with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, it is certainly noteworthy to have the leading NBA newsbreaker put this on the radar. The Pacers have endured a few painfully rough losses in recent days and, if things don’t improve in a hurry, they could theoretically be evaluating head coaching options for the second straight offseason.