The Indiana Pacers have hired former Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren as their head coach, the team announced on Tuesday.
Bjorkgren spent the last two seasons under Raptors coach Nick Nurse, helping Toronto win its first NBA title in 2018-19. Given that the team followed that up with the league's second-best regular-season record—resulting in Nurse winning Coach of the Year honours—it was really a matter of time before other teams began headhunting the dinos' coaching staff. Bjorkgren takes over the job from Nate McMillan, who was fired by the Pacers in August after four seasons as the team’s head coach.
Bjorkgren actually has long-running ties with Nurse. He got his professional coaching start under Nurse as an assistant for D-League team the Iowa Energy, where he stayed from 2007 to 2011. Bjorkgren was then named head coach of the Santa Cruz Warriors, and went head-to-head with Nurse in the 2012 Finals. When Nurse was promoted to head coach of the Raptors in 2018, one of his first moves was hiring Bjorkgren as an assistant.
“We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach,” said the Pacers' president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard 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.”
This will be the first NBA head coaching job for Bjorkgren, who is 45. He also spent two years as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns.
Bjorkgren's departure leaves a hole in Toronto's coaching staff that they'll need to address this offseason. Still, it's a nice complement to the Raptors organization's success, so we'll allow this one, Indiana. Just keep your bloody mitts off Masai Ujiri.