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NBA

Indiana Pacers fire Storm Lake native Nate Bjorkgren as head coach

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers fired Storm Lake native Nate Bjorkgren on Wednesday after missing the playoffs in his only season as coach.

The Pacers went 34-38 and their season ended with a 142-115 loss to Washington in the play-in tournament that ended their run of five straight playoff appearances.

Team president Kevin Pritchard chose afterward to take some time to evaluate the coaching position.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Pritchard added that the Pacers would move quickly to identify candidates to replace Bjorkgren but had no timetable for a hire.

Bjorkgren was previously an assistant in Toronto and Phoenix, but his move to the top spot was a rocky one, with both he and Pritchard acknowledging difficulties managing the players.

After the season ended, Pritchard said Bjorkgren acknowledged some shortcomings during a recent meeting, something Bjorkgren also did publicly when he blamed himself for not forging stronger locker room bonds.

Exit interviews with players addressed other concerns. Pritchard said that while none expressed unhappiness with Bjorkgren, some described his style as micromanaging.

Pritchard believes the mounting losses and a long list of injuries were contributing factors to those sentiments. He said that with so many players out, others were asked to change roles, sometimes on a nightly basis.

Multiple players, including starting guard Malcolm Brogdon, said over the weekend they knew this season would be challenging for a new coach because of COVID-19 requirements and fewer practices.

The injuries didn't help.

“He said ‘I know I’ve got to get better at this, I want to get better at this,'" Pritchard said. “So I have a young coach who is really talented in X’s and O’s and he has to get better at human management. If you're willing to do that, again, you learn a ton more by your losses than your wins, that's half the battle. He wants to be a great coach and I think there’s something there."

Two areas will need to be addressed — defense and winning at home. The Pacers finished 25th in scoring defense, allowing 115.3 points a game, after losing Warren to season-ending foot surgery in December and Turner with his own season-ending foot injury in mid-April.

The result: Indiana posted its first losing home record in 32 seasons, in a mostly empty arena.

“If you don’t have a really good wing defender in this league you have no chance. We needed T.J. Warren out there," Pritchard said. “I thought defensively we really suffered when Myles didn’t play. We knew we were going to give up some on the defensive end (this year) and where we've made our hay in this league is we defended. That is something we’ve got to take a look at."

The Pacers hired Bjorkgren on Oct. 20, after firing Nate McMillan the season before. 

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