The Indiana Pacers struggled mightily in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Nate McMillan's team was swept by the Miami Heat 4-0, losing by an average of 10.5 points per game in the series.
It was a disappointing result for Indiana, to be sure. It was the fourth straight first round playoff loss dating back to the 2016-17 season, McMillan's first as head coach and the final year with superstar forward Paul George. Under McMillan, the team was consistently competitive, but could not get over the edge in postseason play.
Today, McMillan was fired by the franchise. Even with playoff struggles, it seems to be a pretty controversial move among those in the league. McMillan kept the team afloat after the George trade, which most figured would doom them to irrelevance. Instead, the team finished second in the Central Division for three straight years, Victor Oladipo emerged as a star guard, and big man Domantas Sabonis became an All-Star in 2020.
Small market teams like the Indiana Pacers will always have a tough time luring top players. McMillan seemed to be doing a good job getting the most out of guys like Oladipo, Sabonis, and Myles Turner. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is no fan of the move, after coaching against McMillan in that series.
As Spoelstra mentions, the decision comes just 14 days after the Pacers announced a contract extension for Nate McMillan. The move was set to keep him on for one more year, and seemed fair given the injuries that derailed the team, including one that kept Victor Oladipo out for all but 19 games this year. Even without him, the team was good enough to clinch the fourth seed, and he was clearly still recovering through the NBA Restart and playoffs.
The Pacers have a decent place to build from, should they so choose, but teams in small markets can be in a very precarious position, especially without star players to hold them up. It will be fascinating to see the direction that the franchise chooses to take.
Spoelstra said Pacers firing Nate McMillan is "totally ridiculous. You gave him an extension. It’s a media fake extension."
— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) August 26, 2020