Pacers assistants Dan Burke, Popeye Jones will return — McMillan finalizing third assistant

Pacers coach Nate McMillan played in the celebrity softball game Thursday night.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan played in the celebrity softball game Thursday night.

Pacers head coach Nate McMillan will keep assistant coaches Dan Burke and Popeye Jones on his staff, McMillan confirmed Thursday night.

Speaking prior to playing in the eighth annual Caroline Symmes Celebrity Softball game, McMillan said he was very happy with the work of the other two assistant coaches who were on staff with him under former head coach Frank Vogel and that he would indeed retain them.

“They will come back,” said McMillan. “I thought those two guys, I thought we did a good job. We had a good staff and I want to bring those guys back. So they will be with me, Popeye, Dan Burke, and me. I’m currently working on the third assistant.”

This is not a surprise. They all got along nicely over the last three years.

“Dan’s coming back. He’s a hell of a coach,” McMillan told the day he was officially promoted to lead man, back on May 16.

Dan Burke seemingly has a spot on staff as long as Larry Bird is President of Basketball Operations. He is not only well respected around the league but Bird thinks highly of Burke, who first joined the organization as Bird’s assistant in 1997.

“Dan Burke has been running our defense here for a long time,” Bird said at the press conference to introduce McMillan as head coach last month. “Hopefully we can retain him and he wants to come back. He’s been a very integral part, over 19 years, of what we’ve done here. It’s important for me that he would be my first free agent, along with Popeye and whoever Nate brings in.”

Coach Burke and Jones have attended nearly every pre-draft workout, making it clear that they would return.

Coach Burke and Jones have attended nearly every pre-draft workout, making it clear that they would return.

Like Vogel was, McMillan is allowed to have three assistants. That’s the number that worked for Bird as head coach and so it has stuck. Burke is the defensive brains and Jones’ speciality is coaching the bigs, as a former pro himself for 11 seasons.

“He will be a coach,” McMillan said, when asked if the third assistant might have an offensive pedigree. “In basketball, we coach. Most of the coaches coach both sides of the basketball and this guy will be a guy who will be able to both myself and our players.”

With so much turnover in the league, there were several guys who immediately got in contact with coach McMillan once he was named the Pacers’ 15th head coach in franchise history.

“We know the available guys,” Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard last month. “But so does Nate. You have to have a level of trust that Nate will make the right decisions for assistants, and he will. It’s his choice.”

Many benches around the league are stuffed with assistants. Take San Antonio, for example, where longtime assistant Chad Forcier, who once worked for the Pacers, and Becky Hammon sit behind the bench. That’s because they have SIX assistant coaches.

Pritchard hinted that the Pacers are looking into adding additional resources, perhaps player development guys, to the staff in order to keep up with the rest of the league.

“We’ll look at everything,” Pritchard said. “Sort of what’s happening in the league is there’s three assistants and then now there’s a guy behind the bench, and then there’s workout guys, and we’re looking at that. We’re looking at maybe opening it up.”

For now, McMillan will work to hire his third assistant and continue evaluating college players ahead of the 2016 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 23.

[Pacers 2016 pre-draft workout attendees]

“I’ve talked to a couple guys,” McMillan said regarding his assistant coaching vacancy. “I had a couple guys, once it was decided that I would be coaching, in mind. We’ll hire somebody really good that’s going to be able to help the Pacers.”

Watch McMillan discuss his staff below:

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