The only thing more inevitable than the current lockout was who the next head coach of the Indiana Pacers was going to be. Today the team officially announced that Frank Vogel will be the head coach.
Vogel replaced Jim O’Brien on January 30 of this year and helped to turn the team’s fortunes around. The Pacers went 20-18 under Vogel’s guidance and claimed the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Before Wednesday, the Pacers had been in the process of interviewing other potential head coaching candidates and essentially beating around the bush knowing full well that Vogel was likely going to move from interim to full-time. Team President, Larry Bird, had this to say about the selection process and eventual choosing of Vogel (via the Associated Press):
“As I stated after the season, I was in no hurry regarding the coach, mainly because I knew I had a good candidate in Frank,” Bird said. “But we wanted to get through the draft, and I wanted to have numerous conversations with Frank about a staff that will cover all areas. I feel strongly he is doing that and this coaching staff, as a whole, will help this franchise continue to move forward.”
The contract will be a three-year deal with “the third season includes trigger and incentive clauses and some guaranteed money,” Adrian Wojnarowski reported. While Vogel, who is the youngest head coach in the NBA, was waiting on the Pacers to make a decision, he interviewed for other coaching opening, most notably for the then vacancy in Houston.
On top of the Vogel hiring, the Pacers are bringing in Brian Shaw to be Vogel’s lead assistant coach. Shaw spent the last few seasons sitting next to Phil Jackson’s comically tall chair on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench as their lead assistant.
The duo of Vogel and Shaw on the sidelines should be a formidable presence for an up and coming team laden with youth. Vogel, who players quickly latched onto last season, brings a gritty determination and that is reflected in the style of play, “smashmouth” ball some have called it, that he expects out of his players. This style was on full display as the Pacers threw everything they had at the Chicago Bulls in the first round, exposing their flaws, and drawing a blueprint to beat them as well as how to get under their skin. Shaw brings a championship pedigree to the table as he was the right hand man of Phil Jackson.
Indiana is young, athletic, quick, and determined. Danny Granger is their youngest starter at the age of 28 and a proven scorer despite his “hero mode” tendencies. Their frontcourt is anchored by a young core including Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough. Each of them scrap for the rebounds already and have tons of upside. Hibbert’s post moves will improve and Hansbrough has shown the ability to nail the midrange jumper as well as crash the lane. Josh McRoberts rounds out their youthful frontcourt and has proven that he is capable of scoring when needed, rebounding, and working for the loose ball. However, veteran Jeff Foster, the team’s best post defender and rebounding savant, is currently a free agent. When the CBA is restructured the Pacers must work to resign Foster, who has played his entire career with the team, or risk losing him to division rival, Chicago, where Tom Thibodeau would love to have him.
On draft day, the Pacers drafted Kawhi Leonard, which would have been an insane addition to the roster based solely on his length, athleticism, and sacrifice on the court. However, they traded his rights to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill, an Indiana native. (If the Spurs made a trade for Leonard they must know something that no one else does otherwise they would have not given up Hill.) Hill is the player that the Pacers have been looking for as a backup for Darren Collison. His speed and defensive prowess will be useful against other Eastern Conference point guards such as Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, and Rajon Rondo.
Vogel has the pieces in place to make a good run at the playoffs next season rather than just sneaking in again. His team is young and the players have bought into his system. This is a team that will move from mediocrity to the next level in the coming seasons. The Hoosier state deserves that their sole professional team be good and under Vogel they will be. Now all they need is a season to play.