The Indiana Pacers are on the brink of elimination. Who ever thought those words would be written on May 1? The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is getting beaten up and kicked to the ground by the Atlanta Hawks, the squad that finished 38-44 to end the season and squeaked by the lowly New York Knicks to just barely reach the playoffs. The Hawks lead the series 3-2 and are just one win away from pulling off a monumental upset.
Naturally, losing brings disappointment, frustration and of course, rumors. The latest buzz to circulate around the Indiana team is the head coaching vacancy. Despite Frank Vogel’s success last season and for the large portion of this year, there are those–both fans and writers–who are calling for Vogel’s extermination.
And they absolutely should be.
The 40-year-old head coach has,
overall, done a tremendous job with the Pacers. When Vogel took over midway through the 2010-11 season, he led his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Last year, Indiana captured their first Central Division title since 2004 and Vogel had them on the edge of an NBA Finals appearance.
In a perfect world, the Pacers’ historic collapse would be accepted as one mighty struggle, with blame placed collectively on the team; they would move into the offseason with Vogel still at the helm and look forward to next year. Unfortunately, that is not how the NBA works. That is not how life works.
In professional sports’ “win-now” mentality, those in the front office are focusing on “what have you done for me lately?” If that question were to be posed to Vogel, there would not be much to say in response.
Since March 1, the Pacers are a below-average 13-16 and do not resemble the squad from early this season. There was a reported fight that took place between Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner on the eve of the playoffs, but not before Roy Hibbert called out his teammates as “selfish dudes” just a few weeks prior.
What do these incidents tell us about Vogel’s ability to control his team?
The key issue, though, is their play on the court; that is where the games are decided. Credit to the Hawks, an enormous underdog that have absolutely been playing impressive basketball, but the Pacers are the more talented team. Atlanta has been treating the series as their own personal three-point shooting contest while Indiana struggles to guard the perimeter. This has been one of the Pacers’ highlighted issues throughout the series as the team cannot keep up with the active offense. In the second quarter of the Hawks’ Game 5 victory, they drained nine three-pointers, matching an NBA playoff record for treys in a quarter. In the series combined, they are averaging an absurd 11.8 three-pointers per game.
Kudos to Vogel, though, who recently has noticeably allocated extra minutes to Luis Scola and Chris Copeland while sitting Roy Hibbert more often, surely a smart move for the 7-2 center who looks completely overmatched.
Yet, it is not just the statistics we can measure that have the Pacers in this situation, but the intangibles, too. The Hawks are playing with more heart. They simply want it more. Especially in the playoffs–a lack of effort is inexcusable, and after repeated idleness–that onus must fall on the coach. The Pacers’ overall body language is poor while their All-Star center looks like a downright lost soul on the court. Vogel can continue to tweak lineups and preach positivity to the media, but if he is no longer able to get through to his own players, there is not much hope in the Hoosier State.
If Indiana does lose the series, though, there is obvious blame to go around to the players, too. The sole problem is, you cannot fire a whole team but you can fire a head coach. We saw a similar situation last June with the Denver Nuggets. George Karl led the team to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, but Denver was bounced in the first round by the Golden State Warriors. Karl, despite being named the league’s Coach of the Year just weeks prior, received the boot from the organization.
Despite general manager Kevin Pritchard ensuring Vogel’s job is safe, we all know things can change faster than Hibbert’s downfall. While Vogel certainly has a bright coaching future ahead, his days in Indiana may be coming to an end. Welcome to life in the NBA.
What will Indiana do with Vogel?
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