Sources: After Pacers moved on, Dan Burke plans to join Philadelphia 76ers
Burke joined Larry Bird's staff in 1997 and was voted the best assistant coach by NBA GMs one year ago.
A sentence I never thought I’d write: Dan Burke will be coaching elsewhere.
The longtime Pacers assistant coach plans to join the Philadelphia 76ers and work under head coach Doc Rivers, per league sources.
This was not about Burke, 61, seeking a new situation or challenge. It was the opposite. After 23 seasons, the Pacers front office chose to go in a different direction and, as I reported more than three weeks ago, Burke would have to go elsewhere.
When Kevin Pritchard decided to fire Nate McMillan on Aug. 26 and Burke knew his time with the Pacers was coming to end. Sources within the organization were surprised at the time with this new reality considering Burke’s loyalty to the team and his effectiveness in getting players to defend.
Bojan Bogdanovic was not known as a defender and he became one. The same is true for T.J. Warren, who also led the Pacers in scoring last season (19.8 points per game). Burke understood Lance Stephenson and kept him in check.
This opportunity with the 76ers comes less than a week after GM Elton Brand hired Pacers senior vice president Peter Dinwiddie. ESPN first reported that Burke was headed to Philadelphia
Throughout the organization, there’s a number of employees who have worked there for 20-plus years. There’s Rick Fuson (36 years), the president of Pacers Sports & Entertainment. There’s VP of game operations Dean Heaviland (25) and VP of player relations Karen Atkeson (23). There’s Slick Leonard (35), Mark Boyle (32) and Quinn Buckner (21) on the broadcast side.
But inside basketball operations, it was director of media relations David Benner (27), administrative assistant Suzy Fischer (36) and Burke, the remaining touchpoint from those great Pacers teams of the ‘90s.
Just over a year ago, Burke explained how Malcolm Brogdon had already grown to become the second-best leader behind only Reggie Miller. Brogdon, in his first camp with the Pacers, was voted co-captain by his teammates a few weeks later.
Burke joined Larry Bird’s staff in 1997 after eight years with the Portland Trail Blazers, and he’s lasted through five coaching changes. In a league full of change, Burke was the longest-tenured assistant coach.
Burke was promoted to assistant coach in 2002, worked under six head coaches in all — Bird, Isiah Thomas, Rick Carlisle, Jim O'Brien, Frank Vogel and Nate McMillan — but has never been given the opportunity to be a head coach.
Head coaches are more like ego managers, psychologists and team spokesman. He’s a basketball junkie who rather spend time with players on the court or reviewing film.
In a league full of ego, Burke has none.
He was more than just the defensive coordinator for the Pacers. He led film sessions, broke down clips at halftime and would pull guys aside for extra work. And he led the summer league Pacers for almost a decade.
“Sometimes he’s a bit of a … of a smart ass,” co-captain Thad Young told me in 2018. “But that’s what we like about DB. You can tell he’s a competitor, you can tell he was fearless back in his heyday. He doesn’t take crap. He expects excellence, greatness and perfection each and every day. He strives to be perfect, as far as being a coach.”
Burke was the one who hired several basketball operations assistants and he was a resource for high school and college basketball coaches across the state. Dozens would come through the facility during training camp each fall to see how the team operated. When coaches reached out, he never hesitated to assist.
When Bird made a coaching change in 2016, going from Vogel to McMillan, he said “It’s important for me that he (Burke) would be my first free agent.” Since stepping down as president of basketball operations one year later, Bird mostly spends winters in Naples.
Pritchard said no such thing about Burke.
Pritchard introduced Nate Bjorkgren as the Pacers’ next head coach one week ago. They are collaboratively working to fill out the coaching staff with an emphasis on player development and versatility.
In Bjorkgren’s previous stops, responsibilities were shared. There were no coordinators, for example, in Toronto and Bjorkgren wants a similar operation in Indy.
“I’m looking for coaches who have done a number of those things (like player development) and who can take on more than one or two responsibilities,” Bjorkgren said. “That’s the way that I grew up in the coaching ranks.”
The one assistant coach who may be a holdover is Bill Bayno, who joined the Pacers in 2016 and works with both Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
Meanwhile, Burke goes from guiding the 6th-ranked defense, which allowed 107.5 points per game, to the 76ers (8th).
Moving cities should be easier for DB and his wife Peggy considering both daughters (Melissa and Lindsey) graduated from college over the last few years.
"I hate that team,” Burke said on Fox Sports Indiana last December, days following a three-point loss in Philadelphia. “I really wanted to win that game. I think (Joel) Embiid gets away with a bunch of crap the league ignores."
Fast-forward to today, 76ers star Joel Embiid poked fun at Burke’s comment in a tweet: “Yes sir!!! Now we can enjoy together what the league lets me get away with #PhillyForever.”
In NBA.com’s annual survey of GMs before last season, Burke finished in a tie for first for “best assistant coach in the NBA,” along with two candidates the Pacers interviewed: Chris Finch and David Vanterpool.
That’s what the Pacers are losing and how the 76ers stand to benefit.
Also of note: Former Pacers head coach Nate McMillan has changed his tune. After originally planning to sit out the upcoming 2020-21 season, he’s hopeful to be on a staff and has heard from several teams, league sources said.
Click here to listen to McMillan on the Fieldhouse Files podcast.