Two days after saying he didn’t want to leave the job status of Frank Vogel hanging, Indiana Pacers team president Larry Bird dismissed his head coach on Thursday. Technically, Bird insisted that he didn’t fire Vogel; he just decided not to renew the coach’s contract. But the end result is the same. Vogel is free to look for another job, while the Pacers seek a new head coach.
Vogel ends his coaching tenure in Indianapolis with a 250-181 record, two Central Division titles and two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. That win total is the highest among head coaches in Pacers franchise history. Vogel took over during the 2010-11 season, taking over after Jim O’Brien (with whom Vogel had worked for 14 years) was fired. At the time he was promoted to head coach, he was the youngest at that position in the NBA. His best season was 2013-14, during which the Pacers finished with a 56-26 record and lost in six games to the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
Bird says "it's time for a new voice." Says he had higher expectations than most people for how far the Pacers should go.
— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixYS) May 5, 2016
This past season, Indiana finished with a 45-37 record, good for second in the Central and the No. 7 seed in the East standings. The Pacers lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, taking the Toronto Raptors to a seventh game before being eliminated with an 89-84 defeat.
According to Bird, Vogel didn’t go quietly and tried to convince him to reconsider making a change during a half-hour phone conversation. But Bird had clearly settled on his decision and is ready to move on, preferably to a coach willing to spread the floor and play a more up-tempo, higher scoring style of basketball.
Bird: "I like the small ball… I think over a period of time it would have worked a lot better."
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) May 5, 2016
But if Bird wasn’t ready to commit a long-term extension for Vogel, perhaps it’s for the best. With a one-year deal, Vogel would have had to fight the perception of being a lame-duck coach throughout next season while speculation over his replacement ran rampant. That’s not a situation which would have worked well for anybody, practically inviting players and the front office to undercut Vogel’s authority as a head coach. In the meantime, Vogel would likely have wished he took a job elsewhere.
So where could Vogel’s next stop be? Many speculate that he’s an ideal fit for the New York Knicks, though he doesn’t run the triangle offense that team president Phil Jackson reportedly favors. Vogel’s coaching mentor, Rick Pitino, feels his former protégé is talented and open-minded enough to adapt to any style of play. (Bird obviously feels differently.)
“What’s always misconstrued about the triangle, basketball is a game of triangles,” Pitino told the New York Post‘s Fred Kerber. “There’s always two men on one side, three men on the other. Obviously they do more off the elbow post than other teams, but if you look at San Antonio, they do a lot of triangle situations. Now you [need] the personnel to go one-on-one in certain situations, like [Michael] Jordan, [Scottie] Pippen, Kobe [Bryant], Carmelo [Anthony].”
Vogel will likely also be a candidate for the opening in Sacramento, though he may not want to deal with the volatile situation in which Kings ownership and the front office consistently sided with players like DeMarcus Cousins over former head coach George Karl. The coach might find a more favorable setting with the Rockets, who could prefer Vogel’s more defensive-minded approach and willingness to run an offense through a talented star like James Harden. Of course, he could also sit out next season and wait for what he views as the ideal job situation.
As for the Pacers, a natural dot to connect for their next head coach would be Bird’s former Celtics teammate Kevin McHale. But Bird insists he wouldn’t ask McHale to work under him.
Larry Bird dismisses idea that Kevin McHale would coach #Pacers, says he "I would not do that to Kevin," wouldn't ask McHale to work for him
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) May 5, 2016
Bird insists he has a list of names to contact, but it’s difficult to imagine any of them being a better choice than what he already had in Vogel. Could former Pacer Mark Jackson be a top candidate? Other possibilities include Jeff Hornacek, who would appear to fit Bird’s preferences for a more up-tempo offense, and David Blatt. Or if Bird really wants to open up his offense and go crazy, perhaps he’ll give Mike D’Antoni a call.
Do any of those choices look like a coaching upgrade, even if they provide the new voice in the locker room that Bird obviously feels is necessary?