Pacers fire HC Nate McMillan, top candidates to replace him

ESPN's Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy during NBA Playoff game
May 22, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; ESPN broadcasters (left to right) Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen before game four of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers on Wednesday sent shock waves throughout the NBA world, firing head coach Nate McMillan after a 45-28 regular season.

The firing came following a four-game series sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. It also comes about two weeks after Indiana signed McMillan to a contract extension.

The respected head coach ends his tenure in Indiana having posted a 183-136 record en route to leading the Pacers into the playoffs in each of his four seasons. It goes without saying that this job will be attractive to top-end head-coaching candidates around the Association. Let’s look at a few of the top candidates.

Kenny Atkinson, former Nets head coach

Atkinson, 53, got a raw deal after less than three four seasons as the Nets’ head coach. He was fired during the spring following a 28-34 start to the 2019-20 season. This, despite the fact that he took over pretty much an expansion level roster back in 2016-17 and was able to turn that into a playoff appearance last season.

Having previously worked with Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, Atkinson is among the most respected coaches in the Association. He’d do wonders for a Pacers squad looking to overcome four consecutive first-round exits in the playoffs.

Dave Joerger, former Grizzlies and Kings head coach

The 46-year-old Joerger lasted only three seasons in both Memphis and Sacramento. Though, he had success at both stops. Back in 2018-19, the veteran coach’s final season in California’s capital city, he led the Kings to a 39-43 record. This represented Sacramento’s best season since all the way back in 2005-06.

Joerger also led Memphis to three consecutive playoff appearances from 2014-16, helping the team to at least 50 wins two times in the process. A coach with experience leading up-and-coming rosters, he’d make a ton of sense for Indiana.

Mark Jackson, former Golden State Warriors head coach

Here’s a name that stands out in a big way. The current ESPN analyst played in Indiana for parts of six seasons before calling it a career and turning to both coaching and the media. He worked with Reggie Miller to build one of the better backcourts in the Association.

More recently, Jackson helped turn the fortunes of a long-downtrodden Warriors organization. He led the team to two playoff appearances in three seasons, including a 51-31 mark in 2013-14. That came after Golden State earned one playoff appearance in the two decades before Jackson took over. He has the experience working with a young, talented team. The only issue here might be Jackson’s political beliefs within an NBA that is more progressive now than ever before.

Jeff Van Gudy, former Knicks and Rockets head coach

Having not manned an NBA bench since the 2006-07 season, some seem to think that Van Gundy is more than happy in his role as Mark Jackson’s partner on ESPN. Not so fast. The respected NBA mind continues to find himself bandied about when it comes to head coach openings.

For good reason. Van Gundy, 58, earned nine playoff appearances in parts of 11 seasons as the head coach in New York and Houston. That included a trip to the NBA Finals with the Knicks in 1999. If the Pacers are looking for an experienced coach with a win-now mentality, Van Gundy makes a lot of sense.

Mike D’Antoni, current Houston Rockets head coach

With Houston battling to make it out of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, there’s a darn good chance that D’Antoni will be out of a job here soon. He’s a lame duck head coach. Reports have continued to surface that the Rockets plan to move on from the veteran coach barring an NBA title run in Orlando.

It is being noted that if D’Antoni is jettisoned from Houston, the Pacers will have interest in his services. Here’s a coach that has posted an absurd 217-101 record with Houston. Unfortunately, a lack of playoff success could doom him.