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Time For Pacers’ Frank Vogel To Feel The Heat?

The struggling Indiana Pacers currently resemble a lottery bound team. Should Frank Vogel be feeling the heat?

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If you haven’t been following the league closely over the past two months and just decided to pick up the morning paper and look at the standings, you might be fooled when evaluating the Indiana Pacers.

On paper, the Pacers have the league’s fifth-best record, have already clinched the Central Division crown and own one of the best home records (34-6) in the NBA this season. Dig even deeper and you’ll  notice the team’s 53 wins this season is the franchise’s most since 2000 when they lost in the NBA Finals.

So things are trending up for the emerging Pacers heading into the playoffs, right? Unfortunately the situation in Indiana has gotten progressively worse as the season trudges along.

On March 2, the Pacers were 46-13, widely becoming media darlings and owned the best record in the league. Since then, the team has taken on the identity of a rebuilding team headed for a spot in the draft lottery.

The Pacers are a woeful 7-12 since reigning over the league and are sliding fast. The team has lost eight of their last 11 games and playing their worst basketball of the season.

On Sunday, the normally rock-solid at home Pacers found themselves down by 32 at halftime versus the struggling and injury ravaged Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers put up just 23 points in the first half on 7-for-35 shooting from the floor and All-Star center Roy Hibbert was benched for the second half, which left the sellout crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a state of confusion.

It isn’t just the fact the Pacers are losing games. Teams routinely struggle during the course of the grueling 82-game regular season. It is how the Pacers are losing that is causing the concern among the team’s fan base.

Out the team’s last 12 losses, eight have been by double-digit margins. Four of those contests by 20 or more points (Charlotte, Houston, San Antonio and Atlanta).

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One of the hottest topics in the league is attempting to identify what is wrong with the once hot Pacers.

A little over a week ago, Hibbert implied the team had become too selfish after a loss to the Washington Wizards.

“Some selfish dudes in here,” Hibbert quipped after the loss. “Some selfish dudes. I’m tired of talking about it. We’ve been talking about it for a month.”

Others point to a disruption of chemistry after the team traded away veteran forward Danny Granger at the trade deadline and then signed free agent center Andrew Bynum shortly after.

However, those reasons may just be low hanging fruit concealing an alternate scenario.

A situation that hasn’t been called into question, yet, is the role of head coach Frank Vogel in keeping his troops on the right path. The old adage of coaches getting too much credit when their team wins and too much blame when their team struggles definitely has some truth. However, at the pro level, coaches typically serve as motivators of men who need to work tirelessly to keep chemistry running smooth. One could argue Vogel hasn’t done the best job managing egos within the locker room as the Pacers’ star continued to rise. All-Star forward Paul George has been involved in numerous off-court distractions since signing his max level deal last summer, while Hibbert openly questioned his teammates’ motives in the media.

Vogel has compiled an impressive 164-99 (.624) record with the club since taking over the reins during the 2011 campaign. The club has reached the playoffs each season and has gotten further in every appearance.

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During the team’s recent rise in the standings they have taken on the personality of their head coach – young, aggressive, confident and unafraid. But Vogel’s inability to properly patch the team’s problems over the last month may be an indicator he has taken the unit as far as he can lead them. If the Pacers’ free fall continues and leads to an earlier than expected playoff ouster, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Vogel’s seat got hotter.

After all, recent NBA precedent is ripe with examples of coaches being ushered to the unemployment line even after posting successful results.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Lionel Hollins was shown the exit out of Memphis last summer after leading the franchise to the Western Conference Finals in 2013 and compiling a 143-87 (.621) record in his final three seasons with the club.
  • Mike Brown (1) was shown the door in Cleveland after two consecutive 60-win seasons (2009 and 2010) and five straight playoff appearances.
  • Mike Brown (2) was fired by the Los Angeles Lakers just five games into his second season after leading the team to the playoffs in his first campaign.
  • Larry Drew’s contract wasn’t renewed in Atlanta after recording three consecutive postseason trips.

Vogel has the wins on the resume. But with ever increasing expectations, victories no longer guarantee job security in today’s league. The pressure will be on for Vogel to navigate the Pacers through adversity as we head into the playoffs. A failure to do so and it wouldn’t surprise if his seat became hotter entering the offseason.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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