UPDATE: Thursday, April 24, at 12:35 p.m. ET by Dan Favale
Sources tell Pacers team president Larry Bird, who tells Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard, who tells us that head coach Frank Vogel isn't going anywhere:
Games of telephone have never been so fun.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Pacers coach Frank Vogel is in danger of losing his job if Indy's playoff run doesn't end well:
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Vogel, despite a 56-win season that secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, is "coaching for his job" in the wake of Indiana's alarming slide that has stretched into its third month.
Following Indiana's 101-85 triumph over Atlanta in Game 2 of the teams' first-round series, sources told ESPN.com that coming back to win the series against the Hawks would not automatically ensure Vogel's safety. After a 40-11 start, the Pacers went just 16-15 the rest of the way before a humbling loss in the series opener against the eighth-seeded Hawks.
Vogel's job security has entered potentially fatal waters amid the Pacers' midseason collapse that began just before the All-Star break.
Expectations inexplicably rose after team president Larry Bird signed Andrew Bynum and traded Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner. In a vacuum, those were two shrewd, rotation-deepening moves that stood to strengthen an already dominant Pacers squad. But team chemistry has wavered instead.
Fingers have been pointed in every direction since. Blame has shifted from coach to players and back again on multiple occasions.
Among the most prominent scapegoats has been center Roy Hibbert, who has struggled to remain productive on the offensive end and made waves for calling out his teammates in late March.
"Some selfish dudes in here," Hibbert said then in reference to Indiana's shot distribution, per NBA.com's David Aldridge. "Some selfish dudes. I'm tired of talking about it. We've been talking about it for a month."
With all that's gone wrong, it seems unfair to hold Vogel solely responsible. But coaches are frequent fall guys for collective missteps like these. The Pacers were sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference. It was Vogel's job to keep them there without having to navigate unnecessary drama.
Bird himself has been growing impatient. Back in March, he made some telling remarks to The Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz, essentially criticizing the job Vogel was doing:
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.
At what point does Bird start blaming himself, though?
Bad as the Pacers and Vogel have been, it's Bird that tinkered with a title contender more than halfway through this season. Bringing in Bynum and Turner were considered low-risk, high-reward gambits, but there are no such things when fiddling with the chemistry of a team that prides itself on cohesion and stability above everything else.
As Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley put it earlier this month:
It's been a while since the Pacers looked elite, longer still since they've deserved a spot on the short list of NBA championship contenders. Bird's tinkering, well-intentioned but misguided, set off a chain reaction that has rocked the Pacers' structure and threatened to collapse their championship ceiling.
In addition to Vogel and the Pacers players, Bird must be held accountable for his hand in their demise as well. Any and all decisions rest with him, though, so he's not about to fire himself. Vogel is easier to dismiss, a conveniently placed fall guy ready to incur Bird's wrath if the Pacers don't start playing better.
Turning things around won't be easy, especially since Stein acknowledges that escaping the first round guarantees nothing for Vogel. The Pacers need to improve upon last year's performance to show true progress. They came within one victory of an NBA Finals berth last season. Anything less will be interpreted as regression, as failure.
That leaves Vogel to hope his Pacers can regain their form and contender status as they play deep into the postseason once again, lest he find himself become collateral damage for everything still going wrong in Indiana.
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