Disregard any aforementioned renewed faith in the Indiana Pacers front office. The events that have transpired in Indianapolis over the past two weeks have left Pacers fans scratching their heads and searching for answers from the team executives.
During Larry Bird's end-of-season press conference on May 5th, he announced that head coach Frank Vogel would not remain with the team. It has been suggested that Bird and Vogel never truly saw eye to eye over the course of the year, making it seem as if Vogel's future had already been determined before the end of the year. However, Bird's reasoning for letting Vogel walk included wanting to increase the team's pace of the team AND score more points, both being categories that the Pacers struggled in during Vogel's tenure. Also, Bird had said that "a new voice was needed" in the Pacers' locker room so that the team could rally under a new leader.
Even though it seems unfair to not retain a coach after a run as successful as Vogel's, if a team's executives firmly decide that one person is not their guy, then he will almost always be let go, especially when you have reasons to believe that a new philosophy change will not work under the current coach.
After hearing all of that, the Pacers' decision for Vogel's replacement is even more mind-boggling. Did they go for an up-tempo coach like Jeff Hornacek, or a proven professional mind like Dave Blatt or Ettore Messina?
On Saturday, it was reported that the Pacers were finalizing a deal to make assistant coach Nate McMillan the new head coach of the team. McMillan has spent the previous three years as a Pacers assistant after previously coaching for the Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trailblazers.
If Pacers fans weren't frustrated with their team's front office before, they should be beside themselves with confusion and contempt now. The promotion of McMillan does not represent the ideology that Bird preached during his press conference in the slightest. The concept of a "new voice" is the most obvious. Even though he is in the more powerful role now, McMillan has been in this Pacers locker room for the past three years, so his coaching style and presence are not anything new for these players. The team is already familiar with his approach to the players and how he chooses to interact with them.
Second, the idea of pace and points are lost in this hire. While McMillan did coach the Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge-led Trailblazers to efficient offenses, those teams were at or next to the bottom of the league in total possessions for several consecutive years. From the 2006-07 to 2009-10 seasons, the Trailblazers were ranked 29, 29, 30, and 30 in the league in pace, which does not bode well for these Pacers, who were already a slow, defensive, halfcourt team. This team experimented with an up-tempo offense and discovered they were woefully ill-equipped, falling out of the second seed in the East to the bottom of the playoff pantheon due to frenetic, inefficient basketball.
If McMillan can somehow take the proposed up-tempo offense of Larry Bird and bring it to life, then more power to him. But this roster is in need of some serious overhaul if that is to happen.
The makeup of the Pacers' roster mostly falls on the personnel decisions made by Bird, but he is not the only front office executive that deserves blame for the current state. McMillan's promotion seems to be a cost-effective move by owner Herb Simon so that he does not have to fork over a bigger salary to a higher-profile coach like Hornacek or Blatt. Simon has shown to have a small-market mentality when it comes to spending money, as he has directed moves to avoid paying the salary cap's luxury tax in the past. If the Pacers had no intention of spending more money to get a potentially better replacement than Vogel, then why bother even firing Vogel? See if the team can build off of the success they experienced in this past season by taking advantage of the salary cap space, and if Vogel still hasn't impressed, then it would make sense to let him walk.
The potential ramifications for the Pacers' decisions so far this offseason are glaring, both internally and externally. If the front office proves to be unstable, it could paint an unattractive picture both for incoming free agents and current players. Would Paul George want to continue playing for a team that seemingly offers no faith in their coaches? Would free agents want to sign with a franchise that lacks stability, keeping in mind how few high-profile free agents Indiana obtains in the first place?
...Just what exactly are the Pacers trying to do?
All stats courtesy of stats.nba.com