Pacers Last Week: Nov. 4 — Nate Bjorkgren begins meeting with players, new adventure for Burke, McMillan changes stance
And the heartfelt moment of the week goes to Alize Johnson.
I know it can be a lot to follow the team, especially in the current times. I want to help simplify that, so that’s why I established “Pacers Last Week.” Each week, you can expect a summary of all key Pacers items from the last week, plus a brief look ahead to next week. This roundup will evolve over time. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Nate Bjorkgren has been on the job for less than two weeks and he’s already in the process of meeting with players face-to-face.
Last Thursday, the Pacers’ new head coach was in Malcolm Brogdon’s hometown of Atlanta and the two met over lunch. Soon after accepting the job on Oct. 20, the team got together on a Zoom call and Bjorkgren texted and called players individually.
“He’s gonna be terrific,” Brogdon said in an interview on ESPN’s ‘The Jump.’ “Toronto has a great culture, as we all know. A lot of bright, young minds and he’s one of them so I’m super excited to have him on board.
Brogdon’s injury concerns are obvious, so that’s what he’s focused on this offseason. During his first season in Indy, he missed 19 games and dealt with at least seven documented injuries. As the Pacers’ leader, point guard and a $20 million dollar man per season — health is critically important.
“A big piece of me is being healthy,” he said. “My only fully-healthy season has been my rookie year and then the past three years, I’ve sat out of 15 to 20 games (per season). So that really hurt me and I think that’s really hurt my team.
“Then the second piece is making shots. This league is all about making shots, it’s all about making that 3-ball now. I’ve been an excelling spot-up shooter in the past, but now I’m not playing with Giannis. Now I’m not sitting on the perimeter waiting to get an open shot. I’m having to create, I’ve having to create for my teammates, I’ve having to shoot tougher shots off the dribble so that’s what I’ve been working on. And shooting the ball from range.
“I think shooting the 3-ball consistently this season will be the difference for me.”
As for when next season will start remains unclear. The NBA’s Board of Governors continues to have discussions and a vote will soon be put to the National Basketball Players Association. Brogdon serves as one of the vice presidents for the NBPA so he’s clued in on the discussions.
“We’re either going to start on MLK Day (Jan. 18), which I think a lot of players are leaning towards, or we’re going to start the 22nd at Christmas time,” he said. “The huge difference is revenue and trying to get each season back on track to start in that September, October range. So I think calculations are being done on both sides on how much revenue would be lost for each potential date and we’ll have to come to some type of an agreement and go from there.”
Meanwhile, it’s mini-vacation time for many across the league. The draft is Nov. 18 and teams are tentatively scheduling for training camp to begin on Dec. 1, so it’s time to travel and sneak away for a few weeks. Myles Turner and T.J. Warren are in California. Doug McDermott is in Arizona. Victor Oladipo went over to Greece.
Watch Brogdon’s full interview below:
Dan Burke follows Peter Dinwiddie to Philadelphia
Last week, longtime assistant coach (and defensive guru) Dan Burke agreed to join the Philadelphia 76ers after working for the Pacers since 1997. Moving on was no surprise if you’ve been following. I reported for more than a month now that he would not be back — front office decision, not his — and had begun looking for opportunities elsewhere.
Bjorkgren, in collaboration with the front office, is in the process of building his staff. I’m also told no decision has been made about basketball ops individuals already on staff.
Former scout lands new gig
Jason Buckner left the Pacers after his contact was up on July 1 and a new opportunity came up recently that he could not turn down.
Buckner remained in the division and signed on with the Detroit Pistons as their director of draft scouting, per league sources. It’s a similar role to what Ryan Carr had with the Pacers before he was promoted to vice president of player personnel one year ago.
Buckner, the son of Pacers TV analyst (and college basketball Hall of Famer) Quinn Buckner, started with the Pacers in 2012 in scouting administration and his role expanded in recent years to include more scouting. He served as a regional scout, along with Brian Winters and Mike Born.
A home for mom and dad
Alize Johnson is a family man. He’s the eldest of seven and always looking out for his siblings. He’s frequently on FaceTime with them, on FaceTime more than anyone else I know.
Since becoming a pro in 2018, he’s made one significant purchase each year. One month after the Pacers drafted him 50th overall out of Missouri State, Johnson bought his mother, Chanelle Johnson, a Chevy Suburban.
Last summer, I detailed how he transformed a neighborhood park — about five minutes from where he grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania — with new courts, baskets, bleachers and more.
On Monday, Johnson shared his most recent project — buying a home for his family. He delivered the keys to his mom, who arrived in a limo and collapsed in surprise after the extremely kind gesture by her son.
Johnson, 24, bought his mother a new house before he bought himself one. Watch his mother’s reaction in the video below:
He also wrote a heartfelt message in the caption.
“God never seems to amaze me. I have been through everything with my family, both good and bad times. We have never given up on each other, I would never allow it, EVER! My family is the reason I go so hard. The reason I sacrifice everyday and continue to put in work. I just want to see a smile on their faces. Today I surprised them with a New House I always dreamed about living in myself, but I’m taking care of them first because without them, there’s no Alize. When my second motor kicks in that everybody loves about me on the court, I’m thinking about them. It’s a feeling I can’t describe, it just takes over. I start reflecting back on how I came up and where I am today. I spent so many long hours grinding and my eyes filled with tears of fears of not getting everything I want in life. I’m glad I was built different because I never folded in any situation that looked impossible to complete. I went and got it done. I stayed humble and just Believed in myself. I’m not ending this without saying I still got more work to do, but I’m going to act a fool in this house until I get my own!”
Several teammates saw the video and applauded the move.
Myles Turner: Yeah you big bro now
Victor Oladipo: Proud of you slim!! You know what time it is!!! Congrats to the Johnson Family!
Nate McMillan: “I do want to get back into it.”
Pacers head coach Nate McMillan back on the sidelines next season? It’s possible.
McMillan said late last week during an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio that he hopes to be coaching in some capacity next season, confirming what I reported a week ago.
“I’m actually talking to some teams,” he said. “If some things work out, I would like to get back on the sidelines and coach. That’s what I do and love to do it. If the situation is right, I’ll be back on the sidelines.
“… Everything has to make sense for me whether I come back as a head (coach) or maybe I assist someone on the sideline. Everything has to be right. But I do want to get back into it. I love teaching the game.”
McMillan, 56, returned home to Raleigh, N.C. He has spent time with his family and met his first grandchild for the first time. But he still has an itch to coach, despite the Pacers having to pay him for the upcoming season after they fired him a few days after their season ended in a sweep. Again.
In my 1-on-1 conversation with McMillan the day after, he detailed what happened, what this past season was like and the countless injuries they had to overcome.
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“I felt like we had the talent this season to get out of that first round and injuries creeped up on us again and really hurt us,” McMillan said. “But I think that’s a talented team. I think that team can compete and win, and I felt confident that really it didn’t make a difference who we met in the playoffs.”
The Pacers hired first-time NBA head coach Nate Bjorkgren almost two months later and longtime assistant Dan Burke was forced to go elsewhere.
McMillan was asked about Victor Oladipo, who has not yet played at 100 percent since his right quad tendon ruptured in Jan. 2019.
“I love Victor,” he said. “He became an All-Star with us and then had that season-ending injury. Whenever you have that type of injury, it takes you two years to really get back to rhythm, get comfortable with playing on the floor again, getting the strength back into your legs, to be able to play at this level. To come in with an injury or have something that is affecting you being 100 percent out there and you’re going against the best in the world, that’s very difficult.”
“… It was difficult for Victor, it was difficult for the team because the team had had success without him and now you’re trying to fit in your All-Star from a season ago. That’s going to take some time, take some adjustment.”
There’s been several coaching changes and there’s several places who could lean on McMillan’s playing and coaching experience such as the Houston Rockets. He’s been able and willing to adapt in many ways, but he acknowledged that he is still very much an old-school type of coach.
“I still have a lot of old-school in me where I coach off of feel and not so much analytics,” he said, later referencing the Tampa Bay Rays’ analytics-driven pitching change in a decisive World Series game. “Some teams are OK with that, some teams are not.”
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