The day after they were eliminated from the playoffs Saturday night, the Indiana Pacers announced that they were keeping Frank Vogel as the team’s head coach. Questions of whether or not Vogel’s job was safe have risen due to the team’s lackluster finish to the regular season and less than stellar showing in the playoffs, but the team put an end to any such speculation.
Now here is the question that we are faced with: Was bringing Vogel back the right or wrong decision? Let’s review this past season and see if we can find an answer.
The young and talented Indiana Pacers had a fantastic showing in last year’s playoffs when they took the eventual champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat had obvious troubles dealing with Pacers center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West down low due to their size and defensive abilities. Pacers small forward Paul George had also proven that he was a rising star in this league with his great athleticism and defensive prowess, which proved to bother Miami’s superstar forward, LeBron James.
Pacers president Larry Bird made some significant roster moves this past offseason to try and help put the Pacers over the hump that is the Miami Heat and LeBron James. He added veteran point guard C.J. Watson, veteran power forward Luis Scola, and second year small forward Chris Copeland to help bring the Pacers some depth and scoring from the bench.
The Pacers were fantastic at the start of the season, but after some major roster tweaks, the team’s success began to spiral almost out of control. As the trade deadline approached in February, Bird traded veteran small forward Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for wing-player Evan Turner and power forward Lavoy Allen. He also released wing-player Orlando Johnson, and signed former All-Star center Andrew Bynum. Around this time, the Pacers had a league-best 46-13 win-loss record.
Then something changed. Pacers point guard George Hill and center Roy Hibbert started to struggle immensely. Paul George, who was considered to be an early MVP candidate, started to take a step backwards. Their offense started to become very stagnant and struggled to score as they constantly scored in the low-teens and sometimes single-digits in entire quarters. The defense, which was considered to be the best in the league, started to give up big offensive outputs from individual players, as well as entire teams. And during all of this, Frank Vogel did not make any lineup or rotation changes.
Due to the Miami Heat resting their players, and an overall weak Eastern Conference, the Pacers backed their way into the top seed even with a 10-13 ending to the season. Many wondered if the Pacers were going to get back on track when the playoffs started, but they found themselves down 0-1, 1-2, and 2-3 to the eight-seeded Atlanta Hawks, who they eventually eliminated in game seven. They then found themselves down 0-1 to the Washington Wizards in the next round. Then, after winning the next three games, they lost badly to the Wizards in game five at home and were forced to eliminate them in Washington in game six.
Then came the series against the Miami Heat. They won game one in similar fashion to how they played against them last year, but then lost the next three games. If it were not for a miraculous game five performance by Paul George, they would have been eliminated in five games instead of six.
During the bad end to the season, and throughout the playoffs Roy Hibbert struggled mightily as he finished several games with low rebound and point productions which included a few with no points or no rebounds at all. The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat played a lot of small ball with a lot of 3-point shooters to spread the Pacers’ defense out and force Hibbert to come out of the paint. This proved to be very successful because Vogel was very slow to make any changes.
With all of that being said, there was a lot of pressure on the Pacers this year. And some off-court issues mixed with some chemistry problems due to in-season roster changes could be at the core of the team’s bad finish, but not for the problems in the post-season. Playoff series are about making adjustments, which Vogel was hesitant and sometimes reluctant to do. If Paul George did not throw together some great all-around games, they could have been eliminated in the first round, which would have probably cost Vogel his job.
In my opinion, Vogel needed to go because the decision to not keep him was made harder by Paul George. It would make Larry Bird look bad to fire a head coach who took his team to the Eastern Conference Finals and two wins away from the NBA Finals. But the best decision would be to fire him anyways if he wants to improve next year, which is a must if they want to have a chance at dethroning the Miami Heat.