Discover more from Fieldhouse Files with Scott Agness
Nate McMillan returns to the sidelines, Greg Foster added to Pacers' coaching staff
Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren hired Foster, who was replaced by McMillan in Atlanta.
Nate McMillan will be back on the NBA sidelines for the 2020-21 season. The former Pacers head coach will work alongside Lloyd Pierce, the 44-year-old who is entering his third season as Atlanta Hawks head coach.
“I reached out to Nate after he became available and we’ve had extensive conversations centering around the value, expertise and experience he would add as we look to progress next season,” Pierce said in a statement. “This is a unique opportunity that will benefit me, our coaching staff and our entire roster.
“In his 16 years as a successful NBA head coach, his teams have emulated his playing style and personality. They’ve always been disciplined, competitive, played together and won at a high level. I have great respect for Nate as a man and as a coach, and I feel fortunate to welcome him to our staff and to the Hawks.”
McMillan, 56, originally planned to sit out the upcoming season once he was fired by the Pacers two days after their season ended in a sweep to the Miami Heat. But then several teams came calling, including the Hawks and Rockets, for his experience and extensive knowledge of the league.
McMillan began coaching in the NBA in 1999 and has been a head coach for three teams over 16 seasons. He’s served as a mentor for Pierce just as Lenny Wilkens and Mike Fratello did for him. It was Pierce who replaced McMillan as an assistant for Team USA last summer.
“He’s always been great, he’s always been complimentary and he’s always been gracious with his time and his words,” Pierce told me in 2019.
McMillan has coached 1249 NBA games compared to Pierce’ 149 games over two seasons. And he’s essentially swapping spots with Greg Foster, who agreed to a deal to join the Pacers’ coaching staff, per league sources.
One source who worked with Foster in Atlanta said “He is the best. One of my all-time favorites. He doesn’t mince words and is very approachable.”
Foster, 52, played in the NBA from 1990-2003 for nine different teams, then got into coaching a decade later. He was with the 76ers (2013-14) and the Bucks (2014-18) before joining Pierce's Atlanta staff in 2018.
“On behalf of our coaching staff and our players, I want to thank Greg for his work the past two seasons,” Pierce said of Foster in a statement provided by the Hawks. “He was one of the first people I reached out to when I got the job in Atlanta to join my staff and he’s proven himself to be an up and coming coach. We will miss G, Victoria and the Foster family, but this is a great opportunity for him to take the next step in his coaching career. We wish him the best.”
Foster served as the head coach of the Hawks' summer league team in 2019. Listed at 6-foot-11, he has primarily coached bigs. However, new Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren wants to avoid assigning roles and prefers a collaborative environment — just like he had for two seasons in Toronto.
This is also good news for the Pacers, specifically owner Herb Simon, who was going to be on the hook to pay McMillan’s full salary for the season. He was given a contract extension in July before leaving for the NBA restart, and then had to clean out his office on Aug. 26, one day after returning.
Nearly two months later, the Pacers hired first-time NBA head coach Nate Bjorkgren — and he’s had to use his time wisely. The draft is on Nov. 18 and camp will open on Dec. 1.
In the meantime, Bjorkgren has met with players and worked to fill out his staff. He also hired 42-year-old Kaleb Canales, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported. Canales was most recently with the Knicks, and had previous stints with the Mavericks and the Trail Blazers.
It was Canales who was named the Trail Blazers’ interim head coach in 2012 when McMillan was replaced the last time. The individual who made the move: interim GM Chad Buchanan, now the Pacers’ GM.