The Indiana Pacers fired former Head Coach Nate McMillan just over one month ago after the team was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat. Since that day, the front office has been busy and active in the hunt for the team’s next coach.
The team has been linked to numerous candidates, with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN citing 14 names in one report. On top of that, a handful of other potential coaches have been named as options for the blue and gold. It appears that the Pacers are casting a wide net in their search for the team’s next Head Coach.
“[We want] someone who can be a really good partner, that can grow into this position. I’m not ruling out really anything right now,” Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said. “We could go with experience. We could go with an up-and-comer. We could go outside the box. We’ve already identified a few things.”
While Pritchard, and the rest of the Indiana front office, have some specifics they prefer in the team’s next head coach, the general qualities aren’t as important. As noted above, he could hire a coach from various backgrounds and with ranging levels of experience. With such a broad criteria to begin the search, the Pacers front office is doing its due diligence when it comes to the hiring process.
“I want to think uniquely,” Pritchard said. Pritchard mentioned that he had a conversation with Indianapolis Colts General Manager Chris Ballard about what Ballard, and Colts brass, felt was important in the hiring of a coach. The Colts hired Frank Reich to be their Head Coach in 2018, so Ballard has recent experience in the process.
Some of the names the Pacers have been linked with fit Pritchard’s descriptions to a T. In terms of coaches with experience, multiple candidates have been mentioned in the interview process, including Dave Joerger, Mike D’Antoni, Billy Donovan, Mike Brown, and Jacque Vaughn. There could be even more beyond those who have been reported.
The up-and-comer list is even longer. Becky Hammon, Will Hardy, Dan Craig, Chris Quinn, Jamahl Mosley, Stephen Silas, Darvin Ham, Charles Lee, Pat Delany, David Vanterpool, Ime Udoka, Nate Tibbetts, and Nate Bjorkgren all have been linked to Indiana and all possess NBA assistant coaching experience. Many of those people have G League Head Coaching experience as well.
Every candidate listed so far has experience on an NBA sideline in some capacity. But for an outside-the-box hire with minimal NBA coaching experience? Well, only one person that doesn’t fit the prior two groups has been mentioned often in the Pacers coaching search: Chauncey Billups.
Billups, a former NBA Champion and five-time All-Star player, has not worked in the league since his 2014 retirement. He interviewed for the Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager position back in 2017, but ultimately did not end up working for the Cavs.
Wojnarowski reported that Billups has “turned his focus toward moving from the broadcast booth into coaching,” and that he and the Pacers have had discussions about the head coaching gig.
On top of that, J Michael reported in the Indianapolis Star that Pritchard inquired about Billups joining the Pacers organization prior to this coaching search. This interest is not new for Indiana’s President of Basketball Operations.
Some current players have divulged how Billups helped them in their NBA careers. “Chauncey was a big mentor of mine, we talked a lot,” Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said earlier in his career.
Boston Celtics wing Marcus Smart spent time with Billups in the summer of 2017 after his third season in the NBA.
“It was tremendous,” Smart explained about his time with Billups, per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. “Being able to learn from a guy who knows what it takes to play in this league a very long time and win a championship, to learn and kind of pick his brain was good.”
So, even without NBA coaching experience, Chauncey Billups has impacted and progressed the career of multiple players. That leads the mind to think that he could be a players coach, an archetype that a certain Pacers player wants.
“I think they are looking for a coach that is a, you know you hear this term in the NBA a lot, but a players coach. That doesn’t actually mean a coach that played but a lot of time they go hand-in-hand,” Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon said during a radiothon that benefitted the JHA Education Project.
“For me, [a players coach] means a coach that understand the rigors of being a player in the NBA,” he said. “That’s understanding the wear and tear on your body. It’s understanding when you need an off day [and] when you should be pushing it… a players coach has that feel. It’s a feel you have, it’s sort of an innate feel. Sometimes it comes from having played in the NBA, but there are plenty of coaches in the league that are players coaches that didn’t play in the NBA that have that feel.”
Those comments from Brogdon, who has become an on-and-off-court leader for the blue and gold, jive with something that Pritchard said in his end of season press conference. Pritchard wants the next coach to be a leader that communicates “on the level of the players.”
“We have to figure out how to communicate better with these players… communication would probably be my top thing,” he said when listing some of the qualities he is looking for in his next coach.
The Indiana Pacers list of coaching candidates is huge. Soon, it will be cut down substantially as the team narrows their search to the preferred candidates.
And some potential coaches will be removed as the process lengthens. Billy Donovan has already accepted the Head Coaching position with the Chicago Bulls. Mike D’Antoni is rumored to be a leading candidate for the Philadelphia 76ers job. The entire process seems to be fluid for the Pacers, and the team is in no rush.
But they are casting a wide net in the hopes of catching the best fish. “I know whatever coach they select for us going forward, it’s going to be the right fit [and] set the foundation going forward,” Pacers forward T.J. Warren said during the radiothon. “I’ve been seeing some names out there… so far I like what I see.”
With so many names out there from different backgrounds, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. Ideally for the Pacers, having a long list of candidates will lead to the right hire.