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Former Suns assistant Nate Bjorkren agrees to lead Pacers as head coach

Phoenix Suns' Alex Len, right, shakes hands with head coach Nate Bjorkgren towards the end of the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ronda Churchill)

Former Phoenix Suns assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren will leave the Toronto Raptors’ staff after agreeing Tuesday to become head coach of the Indiana Pacers.

“This was an extensive and thorough search, and when we reached the conclusion, we felt strongly Nate is the right coach for us at the right time,” Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said in a release. “He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said the 45-year-old Bjorkgren “sold the Pacers on his history of innovation, adaptability and winning” throughout his unconventional career path. All are qualities he shares with Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, the 2020 NBA Coach of the Year.

With the Suns, Bjorkgren was known for his adaptability, organization and player development abilities. He was head coach of two Summer League teams.

His time with the Suns was his second career stop in the Phoenix area.

Bjorkgren coached at Cactus Shadows High School from 2004-06 before he joined Nurse’s staff with the Iowa Energy in 2007. Bjorkgren got that opportunity as a volunteer coach because he played in the mid-1990s at South Dakota under Nurse, who was then an assistant.

In 2011, the Energy won the D-League title, and Bjorkgren then earned his own head-coaching gig with a Dakota franchise that eventually moved to Santa Cruz in affiliation with the Golden State Warriors. He returned to Iowa in 2013-14, leading the Energy before taking the head job with the Bakersfield Jam, the Suns’ affiliate, for the 2014-15 season.

When the Suns fired two veteran assistant coaches, Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi, in December 2015, Bjorkgren was added to Phoenix’s assistant staff. Then, after the Suns fired head coach Jeff Hornacek, Bjorkgren was retained under new head coach Earl Watson.

Three games into the 2017 season, the Suns fired Watson, and Bjorkgren was also not retained.

He landed on his feet in the scouting department for the Raptors, where Nurse was an assistant. Bjorkgren became a Raptors assistant coach in 2018 when Nurse was elevated to head coach, and the pair helped lead the Raptors to the 2019 NBA title.

Bjorkgren replaces Nate McMillan, who was fired after a second consecutive first-round playoff series loss.

“I am honored to take on the role as head coach of the Indiana Pacers,” Bjorkgren said in the Pacers’ statement. “This is something I have prepared for during my career.”

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