Larry Bird to coach the Pacers? Comments about Frank Vogel 'coaching for his job' would indicate Bird has a backup plan [VIDEO]
ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" played a practical joke on its viewing audience on April Fool's Day when co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon opened the show talking about Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird taking over coaching responsibilities and reassigning Frank Vogel within the organization.
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The best practical jokes are the ones that are plausible.
Now comes the somewhat surprising news that Vogel is coaching to keep his job during the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Despite winning the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 56-26 record, Vogel's Pacers finished the regular season winning just 16 of 31 games and losing Game 1 of their first-round playoff series to the Atlanta Hawks before rebounding with a Game 2 win on Tuesday night.
ESPN.com reported that sources indicated that Vogel is "coaching for his job" in the wake of the Pacers' two-month-plus slump. The report flies in the face of a report last week that Bird backed Vogel "100 percent" in an interview with probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com.
So the question is raised again: Would Bird, who must think he has a championship roster, remove Vogel and make himself coach to give the Pacers a chance to win a championship next season? Bird guided the club to the NBA Finals in 2000 where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
The situation is no longer a joking matter.
Bird had raised expectations for 2013-14, according to the ESPN report, when he acquired Evan Turner from the Philadelphia 76ers and Andrew Bynum, whom the Chicago Bulls released after acquiring him in a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Pacers also bolstered their bench coming into the season with acquisitions Luis Scola and C.J. Watson.
Vogel led the Pacers to a 40-11 record and was named the Eastern Conference coach in the NBA All-Star Game. But when the team began to swoon in March, Bird began to criticize his coach publicly, telling the Indianapolis Star that he was disappointed at times with the demeanor of the team as directed through their head coach.
"A lot of times, we don't take the fight to [the opponent]," Bird told the newspaper. "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."
The criticism was surprising because of the timing of it amid the success the Pacers had enjoyed up to that point. ESPN.com suggested that the absence of Brian Shaw, Vogel's top assistant who became the Denver Nuggets coach this season, hurt the team because he provided balance to Vogel's positive demeanor.
ESPN.com's Chris Broussard "reports that, with Vogel known for being 'completely positive' in his approach to dealing with players, Shaw often played the role of 'bad cop' and helped keep the Pacers' potentially volatile locker room from imploding. Shaw's absence didn't appear to be an issue early this season, but some insiders think it has been felt during the Pacers' splintering over the past few months.
Indiana's Lance Stevenson admitted to a "scuffle" with teammate Turner last week but denied that punches were thrown, as a Yahoo! Sports report indicated.
Sources told ESPN that Roy Hibbert's comments about the Pacers having "some selfish dudes in here" referred to Stephenson, casting a darker cloud on Vogel's approach.
But if Bird already doesn't have a backup plan in place, he is taking a huge risk in putting a coach who still could lead his team to an NBA title on the hot seat. The Pacers almost would have to lose in the first round to the Hawks for any coaching coming to replace him knowing that 56 wins and advancing past the first round of the playoffs isn't good enough.
Bird has no guarantees on whom he could hire to replace Vogel.
Unless Bird has it in his mind that he will coach the team if he releases Vogel. That would make Bird's comments a lot more understandable because he would have a coach in place that he's comfortable with.
Do you think Larry Bird would be a better coach than Frank Vogel with the Pacers? Comment below or tell us @SportsWN.