This is what Indiana Pacers fans have to celebrate these days: Lebron not winning and former Pacers coach Rick Carlisle and former Pacers player (one season) Peja Stojakovic winning the NBA Championship with the Dallas Mavericks!!
Rick Carlisle has always been one of my favorite coaches in the NBA. He was Larry Bird's assistant when they led the Pacers to their only finals appearance in 2000. They should have given him the head job when Larry Legend departed but instead they handed it over to Isiah Thomas, and of course, we all know what happened to the franchise after that. Rick was re-hired as head coach in 2003-2004 after Isiah was fired, but the damage to the culture had already been done. After the brawl and a horrible resulting record, Rich was unfairly shown the door (though it was never clear whether he quit or was fired).
Now with the Mavericks, Carlisle has finally proved that he is a top notch coach, outperforming Heat coach Spolestra with his defensive schemes and rotations. The Heat could never figure it out and that's a big reason why they lost despite being heavy favorites.
Peja, on the other hand, never wanted to be a Pacer, but ended up being traded from Sacramento for Ron Artest after all those debacles Pacers fans would prefer to not remember. He filled in admirably for 40 games in the 2005-2006 season, averaging 19.5 points per game while shooting over 46% from the field, over 40% from three-point range and over 90% from the free throw line.
The Peja of now is obviously a different player, but he still had a few big games for the Mavs in the playoffs to get them through to the finals, where he did nothing except look sad on the bench. Nonetheless, a ring is a ring.
The huge positive that comes out of the Mavs winning the title instead of the Heat is that Lebron's head won't explode from getting too big and it will delay this supposed Heat dynasty (not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4....etc) for at least another year. Seriously though, what it does show is that a TEAM can still win if they play the right way with the right personnel. Okay, the Mavs have one of the highest payrolls in the league, but they only one have true star. It is at least something the Pacers, who will never attract the big stars like Miami, can aspire to.
Nevertheless, a quick update. Frank Vogel is still not confirmed as the new full time head coach, but one thing is for certain: the new coach won't be former Pacer Mark Jackson (who led the Pacers to their only finals appearance in 2000 along with Reggie and Rik Smits). Jackson, who has no previous coaching experience, was hired to be the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.
And no, the Pacers never reached out to him.
On the draft front, not much happening. Many believe the Pacers will trade the pick or trade down in the draft, given how weak it is, or go for a knockout punch/potential bust like BYU's Jimmer Fredette, if he is still available.
More to come.
After a week of speculation, Larry Bird has announced that he will return as president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers on a year-to-year basis. Oh, and GM David Morway will also return in one of the biggest offseasons for the franchise in years, possibly ever. Were they really big surprises? Not really. Are fans going to be over the moon? Unlikely too, but people can't be too disappointed. After all, he is Larry Legend, and the Pacers have a bright future ahead of them.
“The past few months have been the most enjoyable since I took over as president of basketball operations,” Bird said. “To see our young players develop, to see us make the playoffs and then to see us compete in a hard-fought series with Chicago are indications we are headed in the right direction and it has made me even more determined to help this team improve further and go to the next level.”
According to the front office, the first task for the Pacers is to decide whether or not to keep interim coach Frank Vogel as the new official head coach, and if not, who will replace him.
No matter who coaches the Pacers next season, things are looking up. Danny Granger is only 28. The rest of the core, featuring Roy Hibbert, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George, are all under 25. A couple of good trades here and some decent signings there, and the Pacers should be regulars in the postseason for years to come. But can they be contenders?
When the smoke clears from the current bargaining dispute, the Pacers will have to decide how to spend their money after having approximately $33.6m come off the books over the summer (10.5m Dunleavy, 8.5m Ford, 6.7m Foster, 5.5m Tinsley, 1.5m S. Jones, 0.9m McRoberts) AND with the above core in tact. Not a bad position to be in. It will be difficult considering the Pacers are a small market and not the ideal destination for free agents, so the only way they can convince players to come is to overpay them or craft an intelligent trade.
Here's a video of Larry at his best.
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.