That said, it's hard not to keep an eye on this marvellous postseason, where there have been plenty of pleasant surprises. In the first round, Memphis knocked of the top seed San Antonio and Atlanta stunned the Magic. The Celtics went beyond expectations and swept and the Knicks, the Hornets exceeded expectations and took two games from the Lakers, and the Pacers, I would like to think, surprised people by taking it to the Bulls in four out of their five games.
In the second round, Memphis stunned everyone by winning game one against the Thunder, as did the Hawks against the Bulls, but the biggest shock of all is that the Mavs are on the verge of sweeping the Lakers (up 3-0 with game four in Dallas). Amazing stuff.
Anyway, apart from the impending lockout over the inability of teams and players to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, the two biggest questions surrounding the Pacers right now are whether Larry Bird will come back as team president and whether Frank Vogel will have the interim prefix removed from his coach tag. Let's take a look at what's been going on with that. There's been a lot said already elsewhere on the Internet, so I'll just stick to the essentials and throw in my 2 cents worth.
Will Bird be back?
Owner Herb Simon is due to meet with Larry Legend this week and an announcement will probably be made shortly. Bird caused a bit of a stir when he was quoted as saying:
“The big question of mine to him is, ‘Now that we have the money, will we be able to spend it?' We waited three years to get to this point, and now what can we do?”
Simon responded and said that he was 'disappointed' that Bird would question his willingness to spend over the summer, provided that it was under the luxury tax threshold.
Whatever. I think it's a situation of the media making things out to be more than they really are. But it does seem that Simon wants Bird back, and it's really Bird that's holding all the cards and acting more like the boss than the employee.
Let's put that aside for a moment and consider whether Bird actually deserves to be back, given the decisions he has made.
Personally, I think he's done enough to warrant another chance, and not just because he represents basketball in Indiana. He's cleared up the cap space and built a nice young nucleus. That's the overall picture, and I think the Pacers can't dislike where they are now considering where they were after the brawl and after Reggie retired.
Sure, Bird made some knucklehead decisions. Shawne Williams, Brandon Rush (sorry, but he's had his chances), and now Lance Stephenson. But on the plus side, Granger and the Collison trade. AJ Price was a nice pick up for a second round guy. The jury might still be out on guys like Hibbert, Hansbrough and Paul George, but you can't say they were horrible picks given their draft positions (17th, 13th and 10th). Actually, Paul George is a downright stud and probably the steal of the entire draft.
I say give him another shot.
Not sure when this decision is being made, but Vogel has reportedly not been waiting around, interviewing for the Rockets' head coach position.
I'm a bit uncertain about Vogel's return actually. On the one hand, he coached the Pacers to a 20-18 record after taking over from Jim O'Brien, then got the Pacers to play hard against the Bulls in the playoffs, even taking a game. His biggest contributions are I think getting the Pacers to the playoffs, instilling confidence in Hibbert and Hansbrough, and giving the young guys a chance to play -- and win.
But the truth is, the 20-18 record is not as impressive as it looks -- most teams always go on a temporary upward spike after a coaching change (which they did) and the Pacers had one of the softest schedules during that period. Plus, Vogel is the youngest and most inexperienced head coach in the NBA. He was criticized for being a little lax with the players at times. He was also a disciple of Jim O'Brien, the man he replaced. How long can his energy rub off on the players? Because we don't really know how good he is with the Xs and Os, and we've seen how this team has crumbled under pressure in the playoffs, though that's as much the players' fault as his.
Would the Pacers be better off with a new coach, a veteran who can bring some discipline and experience, get the guys to play defense, and be a fundamentally sound team? I'd say probably. It'll be a gamble either way, depending on who they can get.
I like Vogel and wouldn't be disappointed if he returns. After all, he has kind of earned the job with his performance. But can the Pacers be a better team than the one Vogel has shown us? I think so.