Who Will Be the Next Head Coach of the Indiana Pacers?
Who will be the next head coach of the Indiana Pacers?
After some serious change last summer as the Indiana Pacers brought in the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb. Still, the result was more of the same for Indy. In their last three seasons, the Pacers have had three consecutive first-round exits, and were swept in the last two.
In a constantly changing NBA, stagnation isn’t enough. Change is imminent. Management has already begun the re-tooling process, canning Nate McMillan and beginning a search for a new head coach.
McMillan had a .574 winning percentage with the Pacers, but he was an awful 3-16 in the playoffs. So, he’s gone. As divisive as his dismissal in Indiana, he simply wasn’t getting it done.
The vacant head coaching position is an attractive one, even with many openings on sidelines across the NBA. The Pacers had a strong regular season, Domantas Sabonis was named an All-Star for the first time and is a rising star, and they have enough young talent to swing a big trade as needed.
What should the top qualities for an ideal hire be?
One of the biggest issues when McMillan was coach was a lack of offensive creativity. Plays late in games and after timeouts were, at times, just brutal to watch.
As good of a coach as he was during the regular season, McMillan could not get the job done when it mattered. He’s been to the playoffs nine times as a head coach and only has one lone series win to show for it.
Defense was also a problem. Against the Heat in the first-round, Indy continued to attack Bam Adebayo in the paint. It didn’t work, but the team didn’t pivot away from this failed tactic. (Speaking of big men, they’ve also slept on getting Myles Turner involved in the offense, despite his talent at the position.)
The Pacers are an above-average three-point shooting team, but they take very few attempts from range. They ranked 12th in 3P% this season, but last in attempts. That was a trend during the four seasons with McMillan running the show.
Finding a coach that can open up the offense will take this team to the next level. Having a leader with a winning pedigree wouldn’t hurt.
Likewise, Indy still has some raw talent to develop. Let’s go back to Turner. If Indy can bring out the best in him, the Pacers will be that much better. Sabonis, too, still has an opportunity to grow. Victor Oladipo is still returning to form after his injury. T.J. Warren showed out in the Bubble. Indiana can be dangerous.
President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard has spoken about wanting to hire a head coach who takes a “modern approach” to the game and can connect with younger players.
Luckily for the Pacers, there are a ton of great coaches looking for new jobs. And Steve Nash’s hiring in Brooklyn is a reminder that Indy could hire someone completely by surprise. Either way, here are five coaches the Indiana Pacers should look to hire.
Nate Bjorkgren - Associate head coach Toronto Raptors
Head Coach Nick Nurse confirmed that his long-time friend and right-hand man interviewed for the job and is going to be a finalist in Indy. Bjorkgren won a championship as an assistant in the D-League in 2011 with the Iowa Energy and as an assistant in the NBA in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors. He has extensive experience when it comes to developing players and has a bright mind. Kenny Atkinson - Former Brooklyn Nets head coach
Atkinson’s overall record doesn’t do him justice, as he was hired onto a really bad Nets team. Still, Atkinson is a widely respected leader of men and great at developing talent.
He runs a modern offense and would be a good fit for Indiana’s roster. Known as a bit of a point guard whisperer, it would be fun to see what he could do with the likes of Brogdon, Holiday and even Oladipo. Mike D’Antoni - Former Houston Rockets head coach
Perhaps D’Antoni wasn’t able to get the Rockets over the hump, however that blame might rest in the lap of the GM and front office. The Cat didn’t do well as coach of the Lakers either, but one could argue that wasn’t the right fit for him.
The amount of offense the Pacers have to offer and his mind on that end could end up an epic pairing. Maybe he could even bring Seven Seconds or Less back. Becky Hammon - Assistant coach San Antonio Spurs OR Ime Udoka - Assistant coach Philadelphia 76ers
Gregg Popovich has provided a pretty fruitful tree when it comes to assistants of him that have gone on to be NBA head coaches. Udoka and Hammon are both well-respected and prepared for their turns as head coach. Hammon would be the first female to hold the title in NBA history and rightfully so. She’s been nothing short of remarkable with the Spurs. Their Summer League team in 2015 won the title in Las Vegas under her leadership. She has a lot of admiration from front offices and players alike and if she decides to leave San Antonio for a head coaching position, Indiana would be wise to give her a chance.
Udoka already conducts himself like a head coach and there’s a good chance he gets promoted in Philadelphia. He was constantly making defensive tweaks and very vocal. His mix of intensity and poise would help the Pacers. Accountability is huge for him and he had extensive responsibilities under Pop in San Antonio. Despite not having head coach experience, he’s ready.
Chauncey Billips It was rumored that Mr. Big Shot is in the running for the position. It makes sense as his career arc is similar to Larry Bird. He’s a former high-profile player without previous experience but with a smart mind that could excel. However, he’s not even the most exciting sleeper on the list.
The NBA is full of surprises and that was seen in the head coaching market just recently when the Nets decided to hire former NBA All-Star Steve Nash for their opening. Could the Pacers do something similar and shock us by hiring a fresh face in a former player with no head coaching experience but a great mind that could connect with players and energize the franchise?
If so, I think it would have to be former superstar Reggie Miller. After spending his entire 18-year playing career with Indiana as the most beloved Pacer ever, fans would surely welcome him with open arms. He knows the game well and what it takes to succeed. He still has ties to the Pacers, loves basketball and is on record saying he would never rule out becoming a coach.
You would have to think as good of a shooter as he was, he won’t have any issue getting the team to let it fly and players would certainly look up to him and respect him.
I’m down with making “Miller Time” a thing again and can’t wait to see him face the Knicks and bring back the beef with Spike Lee as he takes the Pacers to another level.