3 Great Coaching Candidates for the Indiana Pacers

All season long, as I’ve beaten the “Fire Nate McMillan” drum here and on Twitter for the Indiana Pacers, people have asked me an obvious return question.

“OK, so you fire Nate. Who do you replace him with?”

And during the regular season, that’s a hard question to answer because every coach I’d pick to coach the Pacers is employed somewhere else making his case for coaching the Pacers but in presumably no danger from his own team.

So my stock answer became “Interim Head Coach Dan Burke, then figure out after the season which coach with an actual grasp of modern NBA offense comes on the market.”

Well, over last weekend, the Brooklyn Nets fired Kenny Atkinson, and rumors have begun that Mike D’Antoni, in the last year of his contract as coach of the Houston Rockets, is unlikely to be brought back after this season with any result short of winning a championship.

And with Celtics fans seeming to sour on Brad Stevens, it is game on for “Fire Nate, hire any of those three guys!” for Pacers fans.

Each has his own pluses and minuses. Let’s have a look.

Mike D’Antoni

My feelings on D’Antoni are well known. I’m a huge fan of the guy. I give him credit for ending the NBA’s Dark Ages in the mid-aughts when he found fun gathering dust in the back of a supply closet in Phoenix where it had sat since Michael Jordan‘s second retirement, cleaned and polished it up, and ran it out in the form of “Seven Seconds or Less” with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire.

D’Antoni even managed to make the wretched Knicks and the execrable ball hog Carmelo Anthony into an Eastern Conference force for a couple of years before Jimmy Dolan Jimmy Dolan’d all over the team.

And then…Houston. A glorious melange of small ball, Clint Capela, and a cavalcade of James Harden free throws and they came an epic die-by-the-sword collapse from the Finals in 2018.

D’Antoni’s effect on the game is so profound that I named a stat after him, and surprise, surprise, the Rockets lead the league in D’Antoni Index (3PAR + FTR + % of shots between 0-3 ft) – (LgAvg of those stats combined.)

If anyone could finally pull the Pacers out from the clutches of Nate McMillan’s awful Dark Ages offense and complete failure to grasp the idea that three is more than two and that you should get to the line if you want to win (only Gregg Popovich is a bigger dinosaur and at least Coach Pop gets a permanent pass for all those rings and being the last coach in the NBA Finals out of the West not named Steve Kerr, way back in 2014)…

You see why I want MDA around. Even if he got smoked by Milwaukee every May just in time for the Indy 500, it’s better than losing in the first round every year.

Kenny Atkinson

Nate has a mixed track record when it comes to developing NBA talent. Myles Turner never learned how to best use his defensive talents, a tall statement considering his dominant abilities as a rim protector.

But just imagine if Turner not only had Kevin Love‘s nose for a rebound but a feathery touch from 3 that actually got used for six attempts a game.

Not to mention the horrific underachievement of T.J. Leaf, Aaron Holiday, Edmond Sumner, Alize Johnson, and everyone else who only gets minutes with the Mad Ants because Nate is allergic to garbage time.

Along the same lines, imagine Caris LeVert if he played for Nate rather than being traded for Thaddeus Young and starting his career under Atkinson, one of the best developers of young talent in the game.

Heck, Atkinson is the guy who put Spencer Dinwiddie‘s career in order to the point where Dinwiddie went from G-League stalwart to legit rotation NBA guy.

To have his combination of top-quartile D’Antoni Index and ability to develop players would be huge for a young team like the Pacers.

Brad Stevens

A guy with Indiana roots, a hero for his nearly taking Butler to a national championship with Gordon Hayward, and a guy who understands how to do more with less than any coach in the league.

The Celtics annihilated Indiana in the playoffs last year, and including games late in the regular season in which the Celtics took the 4 seed from the Pacers, Stevens outcoached Nate six times in about four weeks.

Stevens runs into trouble when he has to deal with clashing egos, but everyone on the Pacers knows their role. There is no Kyrie Irving around to poison the clubhouse—not for nothing did a team with an injured Irving and Hayward manage to come one LeBron James away from the 2018 Finals, speaking of the most overrated player in the league and a walking tumor in Brooklyn…

…hey, that’s two coaches of the three on this list. Who’d-a thunk?

But Celtics fans are turning on him because that franchise is not one that thinks the second round or even the ECF is an acceptable ceiling (take note, Indianapolis media treating those first-round exits of Nate’s like success.) Fans want titles, they don’t think Stevens can get them titles, so the vibe is turning in Boston, and their loss is Indiana’s gain.

Atkinson is definitely available. MDA might be. Stevens could be if the Celtics flop in the playoffs.

I’d say “interim head coach Dan Burke” is still an option, but then Rudy Gobert had to go and get coronavirus…although David Gardner of Bleacher Report did hilariously remark on Twitter that “Gobert should be DPOY, he shut down the entire league,” which is the Joke of the Year.

So let’s wait out a bunch of canceled games, see Indy get squashed in the playoffs (by Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat, since the Pacers hold the tiebreaker on head-to-head for the 5 seed against the Philadelphia 76ers), and welcome our coach of the future, whoever he may be…ideally one of the guys on this list.

In truth, Atkinson, being a lot younger than D’Antoni, would make a fantastic choice and, unless the Celtics completely lose their mind, my first choice.

But really, what matters, as always, is to #FireNate.