“On behalf of the Simon family and the Pacers organization, I’d like to thank Nate for his years with the team,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard in a official statement the Pacers tweeted out Wednesday morning. “This was a very hard decision for us to make; but we feel it’s in the best interest of the organization to move in a different direction. Nate and I have been through the good times and the bad times; and it was an honour to work with him for those 11 years (in Indiana and Portland).”
Even though Nate McMillan posted an impressive 183-136 as head coach over four years and ranks third in head coaching wins in Pacers NBA history, due to bad match-ups and some terrible injury luck, McMillan lost 16 out of the 19 playoff games leading the Pacers, which most likely sparked the departure.
Despite parting ways with McMillan, the Pacers still have a talented roster with multiple All-Stars and plenty of young talent to make the playoffs in the foreseeable future; provided they can hire the right coach to take the helm.
Here are three potential head coaching candidates who could replace McMillan without too much of a drop-off in the win column.
A 53-year-old coach who specializes in developing young talent, Atkinson had an underrated few years in Brooklyn.
Even though Atkinson lost a lot of games in almost four full years with the Nets (118-190), he was able to lead a young group with little-to-no playoff expectations to a seven-seed last season, and kept the squad in the postseason race (28-34) before being fired 62 games into this season.
D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert have been just a few of the young players Atkinson has gotten the best from during his tenure with the Nets. Pacers fans would love to see young guards like Malcolm Brogdon and the Holiday brothers make similar leaps.
While Atkinson coaches in a modern, fast-paced style that is a sharp contrast from this year’s Pacers squad, Atkinson is too talented to not at least get an interview from Indiana.
While Jackson has a pretty nice gig alongside Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy calling games for ESPN, it’s one of the NBA’s worst-kept secrets that Jackson wants to return to coaching.
Jackson was a popular player amongst Indiana fans, as he’s one of the best point guards to ever lead the Pacers during what was arguably their most successful years in the 90s.
Jackson’s last head coaching stint was with the Golden State Warriors, and even though he didn’t have much playoff success, he still posted a winning record with the young team right before they become the NBA’s latest dynasty.
While Jackson and Golden State didn’t part ways on great terms, Jackson has proved to be good at developing young talent and should at least be considered by Indiana as a candidate.
A Woj Bomb dropped alongside the news of McMillan’s firing, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Pacers have a dream candidate for the job who is still coaching in the playoffs.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni — in the final year of his contract — will be an Indiana target should he become available, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 26, 2020
It makes sense why D’Antoni is at the top of Indiana’s wish list. If he doesn’t stick with the Rockets, he’d be the most successful coach on the market this off-season.
Winning 56 percent of games over 16 seasons, D’Antoni is best known for coaching two of the most successful offenses in basketball history: the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns lead by MVP point guard Steve Nash and the pace-and-space Houston Rockets lead by MVP point guard James Harden.
While the Pacers don’t currently have anyone on their roster who could even sniff the MVP conversation, D’Antoni could get the most out of Indiana’s talented starting backcourt in Brogdon and Victor Oladipo, and it would be interesting to see how he could use fellow talented offensive pieces like T.J. Warren and Domatas Sabonis.
Even though D’Antoni’s offense-first coaching style would be a sharp contrast from McMillan’s strong defensive teams, D’Antoni would be the change of pace Indiana is looking for and could, at the very least, get them out of the first round of the playoffs.