Indiana has been looking for a new head coach since firing Nate McMillan back on Aug. 26, only 14 days after strangely agreeing to a contract extension with him. McMillan's dismissal came shortly after the Pacers were ousted from the playoffs in the first round for the fifth-straight season.
Evidently looking to shake things up and with a roster that contains its own plethora of questions, Indiana settled on Bjorkgren, who's been a valuable member of Nick Nurse's staff since joining the coaching ranks as an assistant in 2018.
“We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach,” said president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard in a press release. “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.”
A coach with NBA championship experience following Toronto's 2019 run, Bjorkgren also served as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns from 2015-17 and spent a lengthy period of time in the then-D League, a space in which he was given his first pro-coaching job by Nurse with the Iowa Energy and in which he built a relationship with current Pacers forward T.J. Warren as head coach of the Bakersfield Jam.
"Nate and I have known each other for 30 years, and I will miss having him next to me on our bench, and I know the Raptors players and staff will miss working with him every day," Nurse said in a statement. "With Nate, the Pacers are getting someone who is ready to lead an NBA team, who is always prepared and is super-positive, who knows what it takes to win a championship, at any level, and is willing to put in the work to get there."
The Pacers now join the Brooklyn Nets as the only two teams with coaching vacancies to go with a first-time hire.
“I am honoured to take on the role as head coach of the Indiana Pacers,” said Bjorkgren. “This is something I have prepared for during my career. I want to thank Kevin, Chad (Buchanan), Kelly (Krauskopf), Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh and Herb and Steve Simon for this opportunity. I also want to thank Nick Nurse for giving me my first professional coaching job 14 years ago.
“I’m looking forward to working with this great team to achieve our goal as NBA champions.”