The Indiana Pacers have been spiraling and infighting since the All-Star break, and despite hanging on to the top seed in the Eastern Conference, there’s increasing speculation that head coach Frank Vogel is on very thin ice. The latest report, via ESPN, claims that Vogel is essentially coaching to keep his job during these NBA Playoffs:
Sources close to the situation said that Vogel, despite a 56-win season that secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, is “coaching for his job” in the wake of a prolonged slide that has stretched into its third month.
After Indiana’s 101-85 triumph over Atlanta in Game 2 of the teams’ first-round playoff series, sources said that coming back to win the series against the Hawks would not automatically ensure Vogel’s safety. After a 40-11 start, the Pacers went just 16-15 the rest of the way before a humbling loss in the series opener to the eighth-seeded Hawks.
The decision on whether to retain Vogel at season’s end ultimately rests with Pacers president Larry Bird, sources said, but frustration throughout the organization has been mounting thanks to a nose dive that began in February with a loss in Orlando just before the All-Star break and has shown few signs of abating.
Expectations were raised not only externally but also internally after in-season moves Bird made to acquire Evan Turner from Philadelphia and add Andrew Bynum for bench depth on top of last summer’s additions of Luis Scola and C.J. Watson. All of Bird’s moves, sources said, were made with the intent to get the team at least one step further and back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2000, when Bird was the coach.
Team sources on Wednesday confirmed a Yahoo! Sports report that Turner and Lance Stephenson got into a practice-floor fight on the eve of Game 1 against Atlanta. But sources said it wasn’t the first time in recent weeks that Stephenson has clashed with a teammate.
Sources said that Stephenson and guard George Hill had to be separated on the bench during a 26-point home loss to San Antonio on March 31. And when Roy Hibbert made his well-chronicled complaints to NBA.com in late March about “some selfish dudes in here,” sources say he was essentially referring to Stephenson, who ranks as one of the league’s most improved players this season as he approaches free agency in July and is well-known to be a Bird favorite.
“A lot of times, we don’t take the fight to [the opponent],” Bird told the (Indy Star in March). “A lot of times we sit back and wait and see how it goes. And that was the case even when we were winning a lot of games early in the season. We’ve got to be mentally prepared to really go after the teams we’re playing against. We can’t have the mindset it’s just another game; it’s a very important game. All of them are.
“I’m sort of going to Frank’s side because he’s had so much success by staying positive. We do have to stay the course. But I also think he’s got to start going after guys when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. And stay on them, whether you’ve got to take them out of the game when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do, or limit their minutes. I will say, he hasn’t done that enough.”
During the last week of the regular season, though, Bird told local ABC affiliate WRTV-6 that “I back Frank 100 percent.”
Vogel received a two-year contract extension during the 2012-13 campaign that has him under contract through next season. Yet it should be noted that Vogel received the extension while Bird was away from the Pacers on a one-year sabbatical.