When the Indiana Pacers go to Orlando, Florida, for the restart of the NBA season, they will likely do so without Steve Gansey.
The Mad Ants’ coach normally joins the Pacers after Fort Wayne’s G League season is done, assisting the Pacers’ coaching staff during practices and games. But the Pacers will only be allowed to bring 35 people to Orlando, where NBA teams will be quarantined on the Disney campus, and Pacers president of basketball Kevin Pritchard said Gansey isn’t expected to be among them.
“This has probably been the most difficult part of this process, getting down to the 35 people that go into the (quarantine) bubble,” Pritchard said today. “We have to turn in the list tomorrow, so it’s up against (it) and Steve would not be going because we're only allowed a few coaches.”
This isn’t a reflection on the job Gansey has done; while his contract to coach the Mad Ants expires Wednesday, he and the Pacers have been in discussions about a renewal.
The Mad Ants were 21-22 when the season was halted March 12 because of the coronavirus. With seven games left in the season, they were one game back of the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final playoff spot and trying to become the first team in G League history to start as poorly as 0-6 and still qualify for the postseason.
Gansey has a 123-120 regular-season record over five seasons, and a 1-3 playoff mark, not including 35 games as an interim coach in 2011-12.
Gansey declined to comment today on the status of his contract.
This season, he had use of six players from the Pacers: Brian Bowen II (for 29 G League games) and Naz Mitrou-Long (14), who were on two-way contracts; and Alize Johnson (19), Goga Bitadze (6), Edmond Sumner (2) and JaKarr Sampson (1), who were on standard NBA deals.
It had been unclear if Bowen and Mitrou-Long would join the Pacers in Orlando, but Pritchard said they will likely be going.
“My goal as of now, and it could change, is to have Brian Bowen and Naz go,” Pritchard said. “One of my thoughts is that this is an opportunity for our players and our coaches to come together. And we've always felt like there hasn't been a separation of the Mad Ants and the Pacers; we’re just all (Pacers Sports & Entertainment). Naz and Brian have been incredible workers and we see bright futures for them. I could probably take them off and add two more people, but I think the team really (wants them there).”
Bowen averaged 16.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists for the Mad Ants. He appeared in his first five NBA games this season, averaging 5.8 minutes. Mitrou-Long averaged 13.7 points, 6.9 assists and 5.9 rebounds for Fort Wayne, and played in three Pacers games with averages of 4.7 points, 2.3 assists, 2 rebounds and 14.2 minutes.
“For me, having all 17 players (in Orlando) may be the most important thing, only because it gives them a chance to spend time together and create some bonds that could trickle over into next year,” Pritchard said. “That's, to me, the No. 1 thing, more than anything else – that we come together. We’re looking at the programming and things that we could do together to maybe stimulate that.”
Teams are expected to start arriving in Orlando on July 7. The Pacers’ first game will be Aug. 1 against Philadelphia.
Pritchard is excited about the bonding that will go on in Orlando, where the team will stay at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa; have VIP concierges to set up things like movie screenings, rounds of golf and boating; be able to get food from 15 to 20 restaurants; and not have to deal with the rigors of travel that make the normal NBA season grueling.
“I think it's a mindset of some of our players, one that’s trickling down, that we're getting excited to go play basketball and really look at this as a unique experience,” Pritchard said. “I'm hopeful that this is the only one we ever have to do (like this).”
The Pacers are undergoing COVID-19 testing every two days – Malcolm Brogdon recently tested positive – and almost all the Pacers’ players have committed to going to Orlando. There is one hesitant player, Pritchard said, though he declined to identify him.
“We’re giving him a lot of space. This is a very personal decision. There won't be judging. Any way that he goes, we want to support him,” Pritchard said. “Obviously we want him to play, but you know it's a very individual decision and I don't want to be the kind of leader that says you have to do it. It kind of reminds me of when my kids went off to college. If you tell them what college to go to and it doesn't work, you're in trouble and I don't want to be that.”