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Report: Pacers to hire Toronto assistant Nate Bjorkgren as new head coach

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After a pair of seasons in Toronto, it looks Bjorkgren will get his first chance as a head coach in the NBA. Not a bad turn of events, after a five-year run as an assistant in the league.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

As with any head coaching search, big names are often tossed around by teams hoping to draw attention and/or generate immediate credibility. For the Indiana Pacers though, it sounds like they’re going with recent results over a so-called established brand. It worked for the Raptors when they moved onto head coach Nick Nurse prior to winning their first championship. And now the first of Nurse’s assistants has been poached by another team.

Reports have Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren joining the Pacers next season as Indiana’s newest head coach.

We previously covered this news here, with the announcement from Nurse that the Raptors had granted the Pacers permission to interview Bjorkgren. Though deemed a finalist for the job at that time, it didn’t necessarily sound like Nate was the favourite to get it. In fact, it sounded not so long ago like the Raptors’ Adrian Griffin would be the first assistant coach in Toronto to move up to a head position. You can read into that however you’d like.

This is 45-year-old Bjorkgren’s first swing in the big chair after a few years in the NBA — two with the Raptors and two with the Phoenix Suns — and time in the then-D-League ranks dating all the back to 2007. As per the history books, Bjorkgren has made two different stops in Iowa (where he was first brought aboard by Nurse), and made runs with the Santa Cruz Warriors (née Dakota Wizards) and the Bakersfield Jam.

Bjorkgren takes on a roster built around the backcourt of Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo (entering the last year of his contract after injury troubles), and the frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. They’ve also got a pair of Holidays, and the loud skills of T.J. Warren. The Pacers are a capable team, a veritable lock — when healthy — to be in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The question is: can Bjorkgren take them up another level or is he supervising an incoming inevitable decline?

(We won’t get too much into the racial optics of Indiana’s decision to fire veteran coach Nate McMillan, who was dealt a bad hand in 2019-20, for an unproven coach like Bjorkgren. But we will have to see what kind of leeway the latter gets from management if the Pacers get healthy and still falter in the East.)

Optics aside, Bjorkgren has put in the coaching hours and deserves a shot at being a head coach. Being attached to the staff of a recent NBA champion opens a lot of doors, so congrats to Nate for making the leap. We look forward to his duels with former mentor Nurse in the coming season.