Exactly two weeks ago, the Indiana Pacers announced a one-year contract extension with head coach Nate McMillan on the eve of the NBA playoffs. McMillan had one year left on his deal at the time of the extension.
These past two weeks did not exactly go well for McMillan's Pacers as they got swept at the hands of the Miami Heat and have already left the bubble. Apparently the Pacers' brass was so unhappy about this that they reversed course entirely and fired McMillan on Wednesday morning.
This is quite a confounding decision. Adrian Wojnarowski later reported that the "extension" McMillan signed only gave the coach a team option for the 2021-22 season, rather than an extra year outright. But that doesn't really help explain why they did that in the first place, or why a sweep in the strangest playoffs in basketball history merits a dismissal. Yet here we are.
McMillan deserved better. He might not be an elite coach, but he hasn't exactly gotten a chance to prove it. The Pacers have enjoyed exactly one full season of Victor Oladipo since they acquired him a year after McMillan replaced Frank Vogel as head coach in 2016. That season, they went 48-34. Despite losing Oladipo for half of the following season and nearly all of this season, Indiana remained firmly in the midst of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It has not resulted in a single playoff series win, but to keep the ship steady without your best player is an accomplishment for even the most seasoned of NBA coaches.
This year's sweep wasn't what anybody was looking for, but McMillan was once again forced to coach with one hand tied behind his back. Oladipo was playing serious minutes for the first time since January 2019, and Domantas Sabonis, the team's best all-around player, missed all of the bubble with a foot injury. Despite that, the Pacers remained fairly competitive with the Heat for the duration of the series.
Then there's the aforementioned fact that these playoffs are taking place in unprecedented circumstances. It's impossible to quantify how the bubble should affect anybody's evaluation of in-game performance, but it's undeniable that playing in an empty gym with a pandemic and social injustices ravaging the country is not exactly what anybody is used to doing. Despite that, despite the fact that Oladipo was not anything close to the All-Star he was, despite missing another All-Star in Sabonis, McMillan led the Pacers to an even .500 record in the seeding and playoff games. They were vastly outmatched talent-wise in most of their games and yet McMillan managed to keep the ship afloat.
That isn't a championship pedigree by any means, but deciding to use this series of circumstances to justify firing a coach just doesn't seem right. Life isn't fair and all that, but McMillan did everything he could with the hand he was dealt. It just wasn't enough for his bosses, right or wrong.