Fans will expect changes if Pacers flame out to Heat

May 28, 2014
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The Indiana Pacers in their last three games don’t look like a team that can compete with reigning NBA champion Miami Heat—not in a seven-game series anyway.

That’s a problem for Pacers basketball operations boss Larry Bird. Some would say that barring some type of miraculous turnaround, this season will represent a regression from last season.

The Pacers lost in seven games to Miami last year in the Eastern Conference Finals. Down 3-1 heading into tonight's game at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, it’s difficult to imagine the Pacers getting that far this year.

But with this enigmatic bunch, who knows?

One thing is certain. The Heat aren’t going to roll over like the Atlanta Hawks or Washington Wizards, the teams the Pacers beat in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

After speculation erupted last month that Pacers Coach Frank Vogel was coaching for his job, General Manager Kevin Pritchard tweeted that Vogel’s job was safe. In professional sports, safety is a relative thing—and relatively short-lived.

You have to believe that if the Pacers flame out against Miami, everything will be up for review. I think Pacers fans would be upset it there wasn’t a comprehensive review by Bird.

And I don’t think any of the team’s supporters would object to tweaking—or even possibly overhauling—this team. The Blue and Gold faithful have become a little more than merely frustrated watching this team stumble through the playoffs this year. More than a few are ready to tune out. In fact, the TV ratings for Monday’s game in Miami showed they did just that. About 153,000 central Indiana households watched Monday's Game 4 at Miami on TV. Just eight days earlier, more than 225,000 central Indiana households watched Game 1 of the Pacers-Heat Eastern Conference Finals Series.

All of the Pacers home playoff games have sold out. Ticket sales for Pacers home playoff games on the secondary market are lagging league averages, according to national ticket brokers and analysts Vivid Seats and TiqIq.

Vogel, who became Pacers head coach in 2011, isn’t the only one who will be under review. But surely that’s where Bird will start. Some of Vogel’s decisions during this year’s playoffs have been, well, curious. His decisions about who to play, when to play them and what strategies to rely on have been questioned often by fans and ABC/ESPN analysts. And the buck always stops with the man at the top, and when it comes to play on the court, that’s Vogel.

Pacers players Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert also are likely to be the subject of a good bit of scrutiny.

Some fans and observers think Stephenson’s shenanigans—including his trash talking with LeBron James—is more trouble that the young player is worth. His upside is undeniable, but Stephenson is as unpredictable on the court as he is off it.

It seems like with this player, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Pacers could decide to part ways with him before it hits the ground.

Hibbert, as personable a guy as there is in the Pacers locker room, has become terribly inconsistent on the court. Watching him throughout this year's playoffs has to make Bird wonder if he’s going to be able to be the kind of consistent big man he would like at the center of his championship team.

Hibbert still has two years on his contract, but because he can rebound, block shots and anchor a defense, a handful of teams would consider a trade for him.

Stephenson’s contract expires at the end of the season, so he’ll have to be dealt with one way or another. Despite the criticism of Stephenson, Bird has remained in his corner. So right now, it wouldn’t be surprising if he is re-signed and given the chance to play one more year, or at least part of the year, in a Pacers uniform. There's likely always going to be trade value for someone as young and talented as Stephenson, so re-signing him in the near term wouldn't necessarily be a sign of a long-term commitment.

The third big area of scrutiny for Bird after this season ends does not involve a particular player. It involves something the Pacers don’t have—a true point guard.

The Pacers have had way, way too many turnovers, far too few assists and a lack of leadership—the type a good point guard can provide—not to try to improve at the position. Not to shortchange the Pacers current starting point guard, Indianapolis native George Hill, but he may be best suited to coming off the bench.

Change is always difficult. But in the case of this Pacers team, not changing would be more difficult for the team’s fans to take.

  • Fickle
    What a fickle fan base we are if fans turn their back on this team and franchise over the summer. Yes, they have been frustrating and a 4-1 flame out would be disappointing but to just walk away as a fan isn't right. You support a team through up's and down's and after everything this franchise has done to rebuild itself the city should still support them. As Cub's fans say, "wait 'till next year!"
  • This Bird Has Flown
    One need to look no further than Larry Bird for his "tweaking" of the team by paying $1 million for a two game player, failing to "counsel" with the the younger players and not keeping steady and dependable Danny Granger for the rest of the year. Bird's performance this year has been below par in my opinion.
    • Not necessarily big changes, but definitely tweaks
      I get where Duke is coming from when he says fickle, but...the Pacer players and organization are the ones who put the expectation there...they were the ones that said from the beginning "we need to be the one seed"...they talked all year about lack of respect, lack of big TV games...they whined and cried about officiating all year, like they had already won multiple titles...they all took the big contract when it was offered...they were the ones who proclaimed this was their year. They were the ones who got Gatorade commercials, got catfished, got paternity suits, got GQ spreads, , want to be mentored by Lebron and invited to the big party in South Beach, without accomplishing much of anything up to now, and now that the spotlight is bright, they are looking for sunglasses instead of embracing the glare. As Conrad Brunner said yesterday, the playoffs are when you find out whether you have carnivores or herbivores on your team, and these guys are shaping up to be mostly a bunch of plant eaters (apologies to my vegan friends, herbivores are in general most preferable for polite company, but professional sports is not where they thrive) for Lance Stephenson, they definitely should re-sign him...he may run his mouth too much, but right now, he's the only guy that acts like he hates the Heat, and wants to win. As for the organization, since Bird said he was "all in" this year, it would be a huge failure if they don't get over the hump, and at this point, it takes a miracle, so everyone including Bird should be under review. Vogel will be lucky to survive...he has been the coach for 4 matter who Bird, Walsh, Pritchard, etc, have brought in to play off of the bench, Vogel doesn't use them, so it doesn't matter...this year, the bench has much more talent than in prior years, yet it is the worst bench in terms of production in Vogel's 4 years...that is, pure and simple, the coaching staff's fault. If you have players the caliber of Scola, Turner, and Copeland, you have to play them regularly and for more than 3-5 minutes, because they need minutes to be effective, even if they are a defensive liability...Vogel has failed miserably in this area, year after year...and the bench players, whether it's Augustine, Gerald Green, Plumlee, Collison, are all playing major minutes and making major contributions on good teams now that they aren't stuck on the Pacers anymore...Frank stuck with the Big 5 playing 40 minutes a game all year, and now he's stuck with them period...if they flame out, it was totally his can't tell me Bird, Walsh, etc., beefed up the bench to have them build the callouses on their butt...this is a great opportunity is just one year, but it was a year where the players and the franchise set the expectation that the next step would be taken...if it doesn't happen, this is professional is a huge failure...having said all that, Duke is right about one thing...if you are a real Pacer fan, you won't stop supporting them, and I am with him...I'll be damned disappointed, but I will be there rooting for them again next year...if you have been there since the ABA days, you would never stop being a Pacer fan...I would expect a roster change or two, at a minimum.
    • Back the Truck up
      Reporters are always coming to conclusions on one day and then offering a different conclusion the next. One day it's criticism of Hibbert. The next it's Lance's Stevenson' fault. As the playoffs continue opinions fluctuate between good guy, bad guy. It's all about headlines to attract attention and speculation---not necessarily facts and substance. Can we all back the truck up, let the Pacers keep chasing the dream, and congratulate or criticize the team after the season. Oh by the way...there are 26 teams sitting on the sidelines. Only four are in the hunt. Oh yes, the Pacers are one of them. Let's applaud what they have done to get here.
    • Roll over
      "Roll over" like the Atlanta Hawks? I'm sorry but weren't they the lowly 8th seed team that took the Pacers to the brink? If anything the Pacers rolled over to let them go that far in the series.
    • Vogel's time is up
      Jim - I couldn't agree more with almost everything you've said. Pacers' fans should always have a soft spot for Frank Vogel. When he took over for Jim O'Brien, that team was in shambles. He quickly turned the Pacers into an Eastern Conference contender, and made the franchise relevant again. I loved his emphasis on defense, the "smashmouth" style, and his endless confidence (sometimes bordering on cockiness). With that being said, I think the last 3 months of the season have shown that he has run his course. He was the right guy 3 years ago when the team was young and desperately in need of a coach who would be perpetually positive and upbeat. 3 years later? I think his style has stunted the mental growth and maturity of our younger players like Paul George and Lance Stephenson. They're now at a point in their careers where they need to be held accountable for being inconsistent, sloppy, turnover-prone, and stop hiding behind excuses. Vogel is like a parent who coddles his children for too long. The result? Players who have yet to mature and learn from their past mistakes. This team needs a new voice in the locker room - someone who will rule with more of an iron fist. Their lack of discipline on the court has not improved over the last 2.5 years. If anything, it's regressed. In my opinion, that's the sign of a coach who no longer has the attention or control of his players.
    • 1967
      Excellent, objective, balanced. I have been going for 40+ years and up to the All Star break I was as optimistic as I have been since 2000 (I attended all finals games here and in LA) - today, I am as pessimistic as I have ever been - I am a season ticket holder as well and supported the organization during the Artest, Jackson, Tinsley debacle(s). Leadership must do better as expected in any enterprise...
    • Larry Legend?
      Larry is the problem and needs to go somewhere else. let Donnie do what he does best build a team. let larry go somewhere and wreck someone elses team.
    • Pacers problems
      I believe Lance Stephenson is worth resigning even with his big mouth. He seems to be the one Pacer who comes play every night. Yes he didn't have a good game in game 4 but he was in foul trouble most of the night. As I recall his boss Larry Bird was big trash talker on the court. Maybe that's why Bird likes him. The Pacer need a point guard and I agree Having Hill come off the bench wouldn't be a bad idea. He would make our bench very strong. Roy Hibbert needs to get it together in the off season. Someone needs to work with him on rebounding and shooting. Maybe he need to take off some weight to be quicker.
    • Not many changes expected here
      I only expect us to get rid of Evan Turner and tweak the bench some. I think the starting five stays the same; and that is what I am hoping for. I don't think there is any way Vogel gets fired after getting the #1 seed in the East. The meltdown this year seems to be squarely on the players shoulders with their lack of heart and immaturity.
      • Mike is right, but they don't fire the players
        Mike...I agree with you that the players immaturity and "lack of heart" (I think it has been more head problems than heart, but whatever, but there has been a lack of effort, whatever caused it) has been the problem...but someone will have to be accountable for the regression this year, and it is not going to be the players...the main ones are all signed to huge deals and now you have to sign (or not sign) Lance. the lace of bench development rests squarely with Frank Vogel...Walsh and Bird have changed the personnel there every year...the problem is Vogel refuses to trust them and use them...he has said JOB was his mentor, and he shows it...JOB only had confidence in certain players...he practically destroyed Roy Hibbert...every year the bench players change, and every year Frank Vogel won't play them...this year, you have guys who started last year in Luis Scola and Evan Turner, and you have Chris Copeland, who was major factor for the Knicks, who won about 15 less games this year without him...and they just sit...who would you get to tweak the bench at this point?...who would even want to come here, knowing you won't ever play? Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee were joke fodder last year...this year, they were major contributors on a Phoenix team that was supposed to win 20 games this year and won 48 instead, Green averaged 16 points a game for Jeff Hornacek...DJ Augustine was a huge factor for the Bulls this year, you want to tell me Tom Thibadeau doesn't know what he's doing?...Darren Collison was terrific this year as Chris Paul's backup in LA, but again, Doc Rivers is the coach there...we have had good players on the bench before this year, but they had to be traded someplace else for us to find that out, because Vogel won't play anyone but the big 5, and we have the most talent we've ever had on the bench this year, by far, and this may be the worst bench yet in Vogel's Frank needs to go if we don't get to the finals...who plays is ultimately his decision...I love the guy, and I am grateful to him for what he has done for the team, but this isn't high school, and he doesn't get a pass...he had good players on his bench this year, he didn't use them, now he's stuck with the big 5 and a few minutes from Scola, Mahinmi, Watson, and Rashuel Butler of all people. You reap what you sow, I say get to the finals or get out...Bird isn't going anywhere, and neither are the main players...Vogel was never Bird's guy anyway...he insisted that he hire Brian Shaw as an assistant when he hired him in the first place...and don't kid yourself...Brian Shaw not being here this year has more to do with the immaturity and head cases we've seen than most people would realize...he had everyone on the team's ear...he was sorely missed.
      • wow
        This year was great. Congrats to the Pacers all around. Only one team can win, and out of the four teams remaining, Pacers are the only team without a true superstar (PG will get there some day). Amazing team peformance. Nothing is perfect, so yes, they can improve a few things. However, Pacers fan base needs a lot of improvement based on current year attendance (mediocare for one of the best teams in the NBA) and how fast they can turn their backs.
        IBJ seriously needs to update their comment software so you can create paragraphs...

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