The Indiana Pacers Will Regret Not Re-Signing Frank Vogel
Larry Bird has done it again.
After prematurely running his friend and former Celtic teammate Rick Carlisle out of town after four seasons and a .552 winning percentage, the Indiana Pacers president this week decided not to renew head coach Frank Vogel's contract, essentially firing him.
While the move may surprise some, it is typical Bird.
Bird has made it known that he believes head coaches get stale and players start tuning them out after three years. He double-downed on his own philosophy when he left the bench after three seasons in Indiana.
From 1997-2000, Bird held a 147-67 record and made an NBA Finals appearance. It is not like Bird is alone with having a quick hook for coaches either.
From Tom Thibodeau in Chicago to Kevin McHale in Houston to David Blatt in Cleveland, winning coaches are getting let go consistently in today's NBA.
Even though changing coaches has become commonplace in the league, it was clearly the wrong move in Indiana. To find out why, let's take a look at who Frank Vogel is and what he has done in his time with the Pacers.
Vogel started his NBA coaching career as an assistant coach under Rick Pitino in Boston before following his Boston colleague and 76ers head coach Jim O'Brien to Philadelphia.
When O'Brien moved on to Indiana, Vogel joined his staff after a couple of seasons as an advanced scout for the Lakers and Wizards.
In January of 2011, Vogel was named interim head coach of the Pacers after a 17-27 start and O'Brien's dismissal.
Vogel turned things around immediately.
|Season||Record||Points (Rank)||O. Rtg||Points Allowed||D. Rtg||nERD|
|2010-11||20-18||102.2 (10)||103.5 (19)||102.8 (20)||104.3 (12)||43.9|
|2011-12||42-24||97.7 (13)||103.5 (9)||94.4 (10)||100.4 (10)||58.5|
|2012-13||49-32||94.7 (23)||101.6 (19)||90.7 (2)||96.6 (1)||64.0|
|2013-14||56-26||96.7 (24)||101.5 (22)||92.3 (2)||96.7 (1)||62.0|
|2014-15||38-44||97.3 (24)||100.8 (24)||97.0 (4)||100.9 (8)||49.6|
|2015-16||45-37||102.2 (17)||102.4 (23)||100.5 (8)||100.2 (3)||55.3|
The then 37-year-old coach guided the Pacers into the playoffs and gave the top-seeded Bulls a tough fight before falling in five games in the first round.
Over the next three seasons, Indiana went 147-82 for a .639 winning percentage. The Pacers made the playoffs all three years, falling to the Miami Heat, at the height of their reign, in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014.
Vogel transformed the club from the team that ranked 23rd in points allowed (103.8 points per game) in 2009-10 to a stalwart defense that posted the best Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) in the NBA in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
The lone outlier in Vogel's coaching career is the 2014-15 season. The year was tanked from the start as Pacers' star Paul George suffered a catastrophic leg injury in a Team USA practice that would keep him sidelined for all but six games that season. The Pacers were left without a dynamic scorer or superstar by any means and still managed to finish a tiebreaker away from making the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
Entering the 2015-16 season, expectations were modest for the Pacers. Bird tried unsuccessfully to reshape the roster into a small ball team, moving on from David West and Roy Hibbert, bringing in Monta Ellis, and pushing hard for Indiana's lone star, George, to play power forward, something he revolted against this preseason.
After unsuccessfully giving small ball a go early in the season, Indiana played their best all-around ball after turning to a bigger lineup. Two of their most successful and widely used lineups included some combination of big men Ian Mahinmi, Lavoy Allen , and Myles Turner to go along with George, Ellis, and George Hill.
Despite the roster flux this past offseason and the pressure from the front office to change systems, somehow Vogel managed to do what he does best and max out his player talent. He brought a team that looked lottery-bound into the playoffs and gave one hell of a scare to the second-seeded Raptors.
This all while managing to hide Ellis' horrendous defensive flaws, relying heavily on a teenager, Turner, as a defensive anchor, and surviving without an NBA-caliber backup point guard.
Finishing with 250 wins, the most by any coach in the Pacers' NBA history, Vogel seemed like a lock to return after beating predictions once again. We projected Indiana to finish with 39 wins and outside the playoffs in 2015-16.
He has consistently overcome the front office's shortfalls by winning at a high level with an inferior roster when compared to the top teams in the East. While the Heat had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, Vogel was nearly taking Miami out with a roster full of role players and one budding superstar, George.
Throughout Vogel's reign, the Pacers' roster has been severely under-talented when compared to its competition. George Hill was brought in to run the point, back in 2011, even though he really fits the mold of a shooting guard. Vogel has made due with Hill and Rodney Stuckey running the floor the past two years, not an ideal combo.
Mahinmi has also experienced a career turnaround since joining Vogel and the Pacers. If you need any more convincing on Vogel's ability to bring the best out of his players, just look at Lance Stephenson and what he has done since leaving the Hoosier state.
Vogel was not without flaws either. In his time in Indianapolis, he never found a way to fix the slumping offense. There was an extreme lack of ball movement as most plays would be limited to one or two actions if there were any at all. The Pacers routinely finished near the bottom in assists, never finishing better than 18th. We can fault that again to the lack of a solid point guard, but Vogel did not show any creativity on the offensive end. His play calling did nothing to invigorate the stagnant offense.
Another knock on Vogel was his stubbornness in his rotations. This was highlighted, or lowlighted if you will, by the Game 5 collapse versus Toronto. The Pacers owned a 13-point lead entering the fourth quarter but managed to score only nine points the rest of the way, wasting their opportunity to steal back home-court advantage and possibly the series.
The lead fell apart as Vogel left in the second-unit, C.J. Miles and Ty Lawson specifically, even as Toronto cut the lead down to five in just under five minutes. Miles and Lawson were a combined -37 in their time on the court in Game 5.
If Indiana wants to look at an example of what next season could bring, they need to look no further than their division-mates, the Chicago Bulls. After firing the highly-successful and defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls brought in Fred Hoiberg to boost the sagging offense, thinking the superior defense would remain.
Not only did the defense decline from a perennial top-10 unit, but also the offense failed to improve. Once a top contender in the East, the Bulls finished behind a lesser talented Pacers squad as they missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
Of course, Bird is looking to the Warriors, just as the entire league is, as the success story for removing a winning coach believing the team just needed a new motivating voice. We all know the job Steve Kerr has done since taking over a 51-win Mark Jackson-led squad in 2014. The precedent is there to back up Bird's reasoning, but the talent is not.
If the Pacers want real change and
While it remains to be seen who Bird will bring in to boost the Pacers' offense, the Bulls' story is a cautionary tale of sometimes the grass is not always greener and you should be thankful for what you have.
And what the Pacers had was one of the brightest defensive minds in the game who, just like Carlisle before him, will become one of the elite coaches in the Association for a long time.