For Four Key Teams, the Off-Season Begins Early

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Stein: This Pacers fan responded with dismay to the reports over the weekend, including one from me, that Indiana had interest in Stotts after he was ousted by the Portland Trail Blazers — but before Indiana actually had an opening. I totally get the dismay, too. It can be a cold, cold league sometimes, and this is definitely one of those times.

Bjorkgren has been in limbo since reports of friction in his first season as Pacers coach surfaced in early May. It was difficult to imagine then how Bjorkgren, as a rookie coach whose most notable prior head coaching experience came in the G League, could survive such open discussion of behind-the-scenes tumult.

Kevin Pritchard, Indiana’s president of basketball operations, only added to the uncertainty in a virtual news conference on May 24 when he said he was “not committing either way” about bringing Bjorkgren back for Year 2. The working assumption in league circles since that statement was that the Pacers were trying to determine through back channels if they had a shot at hiring a proven coach, like Stotts, before determining Bjorkgren’s fate.

The Pacers clearly don’t want to let Bjorkgren go and then strike out on top targets, which would only add to their drama while Nate McMillan, abruptly ousted by Indiana after last season, has the Atlanta Hawks unexpectedly competing for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals. It is not inconceivable that Bjorkgren could end up staying, perhaps with a reshuffled staff, but the optics are undeniably unseemly.

Q: Cheers to all the N.B.A. intelligentsia who fooled us into thinking Nets-Bucks was going to be a series. — @yagofidani from Twitter

Stein: Count me among the guilty. I thought Milwaukee took a significant step forward by sweeping Miami in Round 1. I thought the Bucks, with the additions of Jrue Holiday and P.J. Tucker, were as well suited to guard the Nets as anyone. I certainly thought that losing James Harden to a hamstring injury in the opening minute of Game 1 would hurt the Nets more than it has.

It’s too soon to write off the Bucks as the series shifts to Milwaukee for Game 3 on Thursday, but the prospect of the Nets losing four of five games — to anyone — is difficult to imagine when they are moving the ball the way they are. Ditto when Blake Griffin looks reborn as a role player and defender, and when the unheralded Bruce Brown and Mike James have been so solid.



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