Indiana Pacers Finally Hire Frank Vogel; Now What?

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The Indiana Pacers finally made the long-expected hire of Frank Vogel as head coach official Wednesday.

Vogel and Pacers President Larry Bird addressed the media, each saying he felt good about the direction of the franchise going forward.

While I tend to agree — especially knowing that revered NBA assistant coach Brian Shaw will come aboard as Vogel’s associate head coach — I can’t help but question Bird’s motives in waiting this long, not to mention wonder what further complications the NBA lockout will beckon for this young Pacers team.

Vogel earned his shot in leading Indiana to a 20-18 finish to the 2010-11 regular season and overseeing a first-round playoff effort that gave the Chicago Bulls, the Eastern Conference’s top seed, everything they could ask for. He injected life into the Pacers, not only in terms of on-court performance and results, but also in terms of his often vocal confidence. He guaranteed a playoff appearance when he was named interim coach after Jim O’Brien was fired, he asserted himself in interviews and even said his team would win its series with the Bulls if it won Game 5 in Chicago. This new energy was a hit with Pacers fans, who adamantly campaigned for Vogel’s hiring as the full-time coach.

Even so, Bird waited until after the NBA Finals, the NBA Draft (during which the Pacers acquired Indianapolis native George Hill from San Antonio) and the league’s collective bargaining agreement all had ended before officially removing Vogel’s interim tag. He had mentioned several times he wanted upgrades to the coaching staff, and the addition of Shaw certainly fits that bill (Shaw had long been considered the favorite to succeed Phil Jackson as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, where he previously served as an assistant). However, is there something Bird isn’t saying here? Does he see Shaw not only as an experienced, respected assistant but also as insurance in case Vogel’s late-season run was just a flash in the pan?

What further complicates that situation is that we might not be close to discovering the answer. The NBA locked out its players at midnight last Friday, suspending all business until a new collective bargaining agreement is realized. And this one is for real. The NFL had little reason to worry about missing games or even training camp with its main issue being how to split $9.3 billion in revenue. The NBA has legitimate fundamental issues with its business plan — issues that adversely affect the Pacers in particular — and want to transition to a hard cap. That’s not going to happen any time soon. It’s a real possibility the NBA could miss some — or a lot — of the 2011-12 season while this labor struggle plays out. Vogel could be well into his contract before the franchise knows for sure if he’s the answer.

It also prevents the Pacers from capitalizing on the bountiful cap space that eluded the franchise for so long. Free agency can’t occur without a CBA in place, and thus Indiana will be stuck in limbo instead of adding a veteran power forward like David West or Nene (Tyson Chandler is another highly coveted free agent, but it’s doubtful Dallas lets him walk).

While the official hiring of Vogel is good for the overall state of the Pacers, the franchise is headed into a period of further uncertainty that could last quite a while.

By Drew Allen

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