My Two Cents: Veteran Coaches Get Fired Too, Making Pacers' Search More Interesting

There are now six openings in the NBA, and a few more veteran coaches have hit the open market. Is someone like Scott Brooks the right fit for the Pacers, who can't get its coaching search wrong this time?
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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It made sense when the Indiana Pacers fired Nate Bjorkgren after one year and used the narrative that as a first-time head coach, he was in over his head.

There's a lot of truth to that, of course. He was in over his head in dealing with certain issues, and that made his hire, a bit of a reach in the first place, something of a stain on Kevin Pritchard's resume in generally managing the Pacers.

Because he took a risk and failed last year, Pritchard can't do the same thing this time. The Pacers are a team with enough talent to contend for a playoff spot, and they are nowhere near tank mode. Sure, some roster adjustments need to be made, but they are a team that can benefit from a veteran coach who knows how to push all the right buttons.

That's what made Wednesday interesting, when the New Orleans Pelicans fired Stan Van Gundy after just one season, and the Washington Wizards decided to move on from Scott Brooks after the two sides couldn't agree on a contract extension.

What that proves is that it's not just first-timers like Bjorkgren who aren't safe in this NBA climate. Coaches can come and go, and that merry-go-round never really stops. There are now six NBA openings.

Which brings us back to current day. With two more coaching openings, you can be sure that the Pelicans and Wizards might be considering the same folks the Pacers are. It makes the Pacers' search more competitive, more distracting, more ... critical.

The logic that Pritchard and the Pacers have to go with a veteran coach isn't flawed, not now. That's because the Pacers are still a decent team, and can still make noise in the postseason with a few improvements and some good luck in avoiding injuries, which they couldn't do this season.

Van Gundy didn't do much at Detroit, but that was a bad roster. His one year at New Orleans with a fast exit probably doesn't excite many Pacers fans, nor should it. It's probably not doing anything for Pritchard, either. Van Gundy's lone NBA success, with the Orlando Magic many, many years ago, is ancient history now.

But Brooks is a different story. He's a good coach, mostly well respected, and has all the history you need in an NBA coach. He's dealt with superstars, dealt with massive injury issues in some seasons and can handle the large egos that can take over a locker room.

Bjorkgren couldn't do that, but someone like Brooks could. It's a fluid situation, these coaching searches, especially this time of year. Every time a coach loses in the playoffs and their job status is in jeopardy, their name comes us as a potential candidate elsewhere.

Brooks is 55 years old, played 10 years in the league, and has been a head coach in the NBA since 2008, first with the Oklahoma City Thunder and now with the Wizards. He inherited a mess in Washington, but he had a lot of success at OKC, even with a roster often in flux. 

Is he the veteran guy that works best? Or is it Terry Stotts, who's got Indiana roots and recently just left the Portland Trail Blazers?

These are veteran guys with playoff failings, much like Nate McMillan was with the Pacers, who had four first-round flameouts in his four years in Indianapolis. 

But want recency bias? Look at Nate McMillan now. He's got the Atlanta Hawks one win away from the Eastern Conference finals, with a roster that probably isn't any better than the guys he went to battle with in Indiana.

It's always critical to remember that the NBA is a player's league. You think former Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who was fired so McMillan could be hired, was a smarter coach in Los Angeles last year when he won an NBA title with the Lakers than he was in Indy? Of course not. It was about the players. He had LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles – and he didn't have them in Indianapolis. In fact, he couldn't beat James, which led to his postseason failures with the Pacers. That's all.

Coaching runs in the NBA are very cyclical. There are only so many Gregg Popovichs in the world, guys who stay 25 years in one spot like he has in San Antonio. 

Look at the Pacers' very own history with head coaches. Outside of Bobby "Slick'' Leonard in the early years, no one has lasted more than five years as the Pacers' head coach.

Vogel lasted five years, but was the only one in the past 40 years with that kind of longevity. Larry Brown only lasted four years, as did Rick Carlisle and Jim O'Brien. Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas only lasted three. McMillan hung around for four years, and would probably still be the head coach with just one first-round playoff victory.

In other words, the Pacers go through this a couple three times every decade, and it's just a little abnormal that they're doing it twice in two years after giving Bjorkgren the boot.

With a half-dozen openings now, the Pacers' hiring business just got more competitive. And that puts the pressure on for Pritchard and the Pacers to get it right.

Again.