The way I see it, the Indiana Pacers firing Frank Vogel has more to do with Larry Bird not putting a good enough team around Paul George than an actual failure of the head coach, who made the playoffs in five of his six seasons at the helm.
The official reason? The Pacers wanted to be better offensively, with the sacking of Vogel coming after the Pacers lost a seven-game first round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. The series highlighted how alone George is when it comes to offense, which might hint that someone in charge of building the team (Bird…) and putting the right players around him didn’t do such a great job.
Let’s look at numbers. The 2015-2016 Pacers were 25th in the NBA in offensive rating (104.6 points per 100 possessions), carried into the playoffs thanks to one of the best defensive units in the league, ranking third in the NBA. The 2014-2015 Pacers, playing without George for most of the season and the only Vogel team to miss the playoffs (by a fraction), were pretty much the same: They scored a little bit less (although ranked 23rd) and their defense was slightly poorer. In 2013-2014, the Pacers finished on top of the East with 56 wins, and on top of the defensive ratings, while ranking 23rd offensively.
So yes, Vogel, who talked about the Pacers slightly changing their identity in the offseason before 2015-2016, couldn’t make the Pacers into a more formidable unit offensively. George played a lot more at the ‘4’, Monta Ellis joined the team. All that (and it isn’t a lot) and the Pacers stagnated on offense. Is it Vogel unable to teach a more fluid, less iso type of basketball? Or was it simply lack of talent around George that caused this?
Heading into the offseason, the Pacers have around $30 million in cap space, probably a bit less when you include the rookies they’ll sign. That’s enough to make significant additions to a team missing playmakers and creativity. But the biggest decision Bird has to make this offseason involves getting a new head coach. Mike D’Antoni is the kind of “offensive genius” along with other flaws that Bird might be looking for, but he’s been mentioned as a candidate to almost every possible vacancy.
The Pacers have issues besides what Vogel may or may not have failed to do. The city doesn’t rally around a team that’s been successful in recent years, but perhaps its style of basketball has been difficult to connect to. Maybe that’s where Bird is coming from. Either way, in the whole spirit of “fool me once, fool me twice” and more one liners like that, Bird needs to give his next head coach the right tools to work with if a more offensive and easy on the eye Pacers is what he’s looking for. Vogel got the Pacers to where they were supposed to this season. If meltdowns and such were an issue Bird had with Vogel, he could have fired him after the 2014 playoffs or failing to make the 2015 postseason. Now? Something about it doesn’t feel right.