On August 26th, the Indiana Pacers fired Nate McMillan. Six weeks later, the search continues for his replacement.
Under normal circumstances this would be absurd, but these times are anything but normal. COVID caused the NBA to move into the Orlando bubble where teams and their personnel are required to stay until eliminated or crowned champions. We are likely one day away from the end of the NBA Finals, which means the Pacers finally have in-person access to two of the candidates they would like to interview.
According to reports, the list of finalists for the Pacers job is quite long, and may include two Miami Heat assistants who will be interviewed once the Lakers end their impressive run in the bubble. Let’s take a look at those who are said to be under serious consideration and the odds of their being hired. Here they are – along with videos of interviews so we can get to know each candidate a little bit:
Darvin Ham (5-2) – Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach and former Pacer. Ham played five minutes in a single game for the Pacers in 1996-1997. He was hired as an assistant coach in Atlanta under Mike Budenholzer in 2013 and then followed him to Milwaukee. He is said to be a excellent communicator trusted by players. Malcolm Brogdon played for Budenholzer and Ham in 2018-2019, and speaks very highly of him. That will carry some weight.
Dan Craig (7-2) – Miami Heat assistant coach. The delay in hiring the next Pacers coach is due in large part to Craig’s continued responsibilities in the bubble. Craig has been a member of the Heat family since being hired as a video intern in 2003. In 2015-2016, Craig became the head coach of the Heat’s affiliate in the G-League. They finished the season 40-10 and won the G-League championship before Craig was summoned back to Miami. That Craig has been a part of the staff of a team without a bonafide star in the NBA Finals shows he has seen how what the Pacers covet can be done.
Nate Bjorkgren (4-1) (BEE’york-gren) – Kind of the north of the border version of Craig. He is very well respected as a communicator and strategist on Nick Nurse’s Toronto Raptors staff. Bjorkgren is not the most charismatic choice, but since when does charisma win NBA Championships? He is smart, relentlessly positive, and might be a great fit with the front office as an economical choice for Simon Family ownership during a time when the mall business is not so good.
Dave Joerger (5-1) (YAY’ger) – Former Kings and Grizzlies head coach, who reportedly had a tough time getting along with the front office at both stops. Joerger won with a solid roster in Memphis and lost with a very young team in Sacramento. He is a proven commodity who is very well thought of by the Pacers front office.
Chauncey Billups (7-1) – 17-year NBA veteran without coaching experience. Regarded as an exceptional leader during his career, Billups might be able to transition into being an exceptional coach. Or maybe the grind is a little daunting for a guy who earned over $100 million during his career. Billups would be the second most expensive option among the leading six finalists, and is going to have to sell the Pacers on his inventiveness and energy.
Chris Finch (9-1) – New Orleans Peicans assistant coach. A nine-year assistant, Finch appears to be a coach who is rolling up some momentum as a head coach candidate. Like Craig, Finch won a G-League championship (2010). He is thought to be an innovative offensive coach. Finch is credited with developing and exploiting Nikola Jokic in Denver, and DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in New Orleans. The Pacers, currently with Domas Sabonis and Myles Turner, could use some innovation to get those two to coexist on the court.
Mike D’Antoni (15-1) – Recently left the Rockets by mutual agreement after the Rockets were eliminated from the bubble. He seemed to be ticketed for Philly before Doc Rivers became available. The Rockets won more than 68% of their games in D’Antoni’s four seasons, but his teams (in Houston, as well as Phoenix, New York, and LA) never qualified for the NBA Finals. He is viewed as a guy who plays to analytics – corner threes and layups. D’Antonio is seven months from his 70th birthday, and would be expensive as a guy who was making almost $5-million per in Houston. He’s not jumping back in for less.
Chris Quinn (40-1) – Miami Heat assistant coach. To be honest, I had no idea the Notre Dame grad was on Erik Spoelstra’s staff before recognizing him as he lurked on the outside of a huddle during a timeout. Only 37, he has been on the Heat staff for six seasons. Is he the next Phil Jackson? Who the hell knows? He would be an out of the box hire as a coach without the resume’ of the other five.
This is a critical hire for Pacers president Kevin Pritchard, who needs to get this franchise beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014. McMillan’s team performed to expectations in the regular season, but failed to win a playoff series in all four of his postseasons.
Who Pritchard tabs will give us a glimpse of what his plans might be for the roster, as Victor Oladipo enters the final year of his contract and Myles Turner’s value is likely at its zenith.