State of the Indiana Pacers After Frank Vogel Firing
The Indiana Pacers officially cut ties with head coach Frank Vogel on Thursday. Team President Larry Bird has long desired a more potent offense and reportedly did not like that Vogel ditched a small lineup that he had introduced early on in the 2015-16 NBA season.
Vogel departs after spending the last six seasons in Indiana, where he guided the Pacers to post-season play five times. Vogel routinely fielded a solid contender out of the Eastern Conference, losing more than 37 games or posting a below .500 record just once.
Vogel also had solid success in the playoffs, guiding the Pacers to two straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
Frank Vogel was with Pacers for all or parts of 6 seasons, and they made the playoffs in 5 of them pic.twitter.com/RiqqMVqcfZ
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2016
Vogel’s tenure hit a rough patch in his lone season where the Pacers didn’t make any real noise, thanks to a devastating injury to star forward Paul George last year. George was able to return to elite form this season, but the Pacers revamped their roster in an effort to improve offensively.
Indiana was ousted in round one of the playoffs this year, falling to the 2-seed Toronto Raptors in seven games.
While Vogel had a successful run in Indiana (strong 250-181 record), Bird saw that it was time to move in a different direction.
Bird: “I’ve decided that it’s time for a new voice around here.” Calls it “one of the toughest things I’ve done.”
— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) May 5, 2016
The big question for Pacers fans is which direction, and with whom?
Mike D’Antoni, Jeff Van Gundy, David Blatt and Mark Jackson are four names that stand out the most that Bird would probably considering bringing on.
The big thing is going to be experience and the second will be offensive upside. That could leave someone like Jackson off limits, plus he used to play under Bird in Indiana, so there could be an issue there. Bird has already ruled out bringing in former Celtics teammate Kevin McHale, so it’s possible he’d prefer not to mix standing relationships.
If so, D’Antoni and Blatt may be the front-runners. JVG is always in the running for every job, it seems, but he rarely heavily considers offers and seems very content playing the role of an esteemed NBA television analyst.
Blatt was canned by the Cavaliers despite winning titles overseas and getting to the Finals in his one and only NBA season, yet he seemed to have proven already that he had the chops to guide a contender deep into the fray.
If Bird wants offense and trips to the playoffs, however, he may not look much further than D’Antoni. D’Antoni has been looking for the right spot to return to the league in ever since flaming out with the Lakers, but has always produced strong offenses due to a fantastic offensive system.
There is certainly a lot of good D’Antoni could do with Paul George as his main weapon, but the current roster may serve some restrictions. Needless to say, getting a new coach isn’t the only issue on hand for Bird and the Pacers. They also need to get the right weapons around PG-13.
The next step is finding the right roster. One issue Bird had with Vogel was how quickly he ditched a small ball lineup that had Paul George manning the power forward spot. Vogel’s reasoning was solid enough, as George could not consistently effectively defend the position. While Indiana’s offense saw some improvement when they went small, their defense suffered for it.
The idea for next season may be to either force George back into that role, or find someone who can man it full-time and allow George to stay at small forward. That move could improve their depth at the same time, as they could use big man Myles Turner at center and rotate him with Ian Mahinmi. The two started at the four and five spot at several points during the regular season and playoffs, which naturally helped their defense but at times curbed their offensive flow.
Turner’s natural progression going into his second NBA season could play into that considerably, as well.
There is more to consider about the roster than just a small ball approach, of course. Regardless of the rotation, the Pacers still have a fairly one-dimensional point guard in George Hill and a shoot-first shooting guard in Monta Ellis. Ellis is not efficient, lacks size, doesn’t defend and needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Hill can hit outside shots and defends at a high level, but is not a great pass-first point guard and can be a very streaky shooter.
Replacing or adding the the two guard spots could be key for the Pacers, especially since Ty Lawson was arguably a free agent bust and Hill is scheduled to hit free agency after next season. That could have the Pacers seriously considering trade offers for Hill going into this summer.
Indiana won’t want to put the horse before the cart, of course, so whatever they do will undoubtedly be tied to their new head coach. If their new coach feels they can improve offensively without sacrificing their defense, they can keep their big men on the court and try to upgrade one or both of the guard spots. That is still a possibility either way, of course, especially if D’Antoni takes over and desires a point guard of his choosing.
Mike Conley is one guy that jumps off of free agency lists as a potential fit, as he can shoot, create and defend. That would make him an easy upgrade over Hill, who Indy could potentially trade for a future asset or some depth. Depth could be another issue to address, too, especially with the Pacers deciding not to pickup the option for forward Solomon Hill.
Bird on not extending Solomon Hill’s contract: “Like I told Solomon, the best thing ever happened to him was us putting a boot in his butt.”
— Wheat Hotchkiss (@Wheat_Hotchkiss) May 5, 2016
Indiana could also re-think the stretch four solution for the small ball lineup idea, with guys like Chandler Parsons, Nicolas Batum and Ryan Anderson all scheduled to be available in the summer. There are a number of paths Indiana’s roster overhaul could take – assuming Bird signs off on major changes. Of course, it all starts with who the coach ends up being.
NBA Finals Odds
The Pacers obviously want to win a title, and they know they need to switch things up if they want to even get to an NBA Finals series for the first time since Bird himself walked the sidelines.
To do that, the right coach needs to be put in place and the right roster moves need to be made. Paul George is a superstar worth building around, and he’s just barely entering his prime now. There are no guarantees in an increasingly improving Eastern Conference – especially with LeBron James in Cleveland – but George had the Pacers at the same level as James’ teams just a few years ago. With the right pieces around him, he could raise Indy up again and have the Pacers competing at an even higher level.
Banking on it being a quick-fix that leads to a title next year is a pipe dream, however. It starts with laying the foundation first. Bird didn’t like the offensive limitations with Vogel, but by getting rid of him, he sacrifices a good coach who knew how to keep a team together and get them to defend. The new coach doesn’t need to fill Vogel’s shoes necessarily, but given the switch, he absolutely needs to succeed where Vogel could not.
That being said, the Pacers are absolutely in limbo until they figure out a concrete path. Vogel was a very good coach who excelled defensively and knew how to make adjustments on the fly in games. He arguably took Indiana as far as he possibly could and five playoff trips out of six seasons is something to hang his hat on. Indiana, at least for now, takes a step back until they get a quality coach back in and have a clear plan to improve their roster going forward.
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