Frank Vogel deserves a lot of credit for returning the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals.
However, is it enough to save his job?
On the surface, it seems it is because amid all the turmoil and criticism the Pacers have endured, the team is primed to win its first NBA title.
No. 1-seeded Indiana, for all of its strengths, has a tendency to play like an expansion team. Need proof? How about blowout losses to the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers in the regular season?
We were hoping this trend would stop and the Pacers would start on a clean slate come playoff time.
How wrong we were.
Indy had all sorts of difficulties against a pesky small-ball Atlanta Hawks team in the first round and even got manhandled on the boards by Marcin Gortat and the Washington Wizards in Game 5 on May 13.
It's anybody's guess as to which Indy team will show up against LeBron and Co. But make no mistake about it: The Pacers have a legit chance of dethroning the Heat if they make it happen on both ends of the floor.
If the Pacers fall short, there's no reason to believe Vogel's job will be in jeopardy. However, with all the talent surrounding him, expect him to be under more scrutiny in the ensuing years if Indy continues to underachieve.
Why Vogel Must Stay
Aside from his coaching prowess, Vogel has shown an uncanny kind of faith in a young team poised to win it all.
It is the kind of faith that helped carry the Pacers through a mediocre 16-14 post-All-Star break record, Hibbert's collapse, Paul George's off-court distractions, the Evan Turner fiasco and unprecedented national criticism.
Pacers.com's Mark Montieth wrote more about Vogel's belief in his players on May 12, a day before Game 5 against the Wizards:
More than anything, the Pacers' postseason to this point has been a testament to coach Frank Vogel's stubborn faith in his players, particularly Hibbert. Fans were tweeting demands for Luis Scola.
Vogel didn't give up on Hibbert after three scoreless playoff games, so he's not likely to give up on Scola or anyone else this quickly.
Vogel should get a Velcro endorsement for his tendency to stick with people, and so far it has paid off.
Montieth makes a good point. How about the way Vogel has handled Lance Stephenson as well? Stephenson has been solid, a versatile player who had five triple-doubles in the regular season and made a case for himself as a potential All-Star.
However, as good as Stephenson has become, his emotions tend to get the better of his play (like jawing with the Heat's Dwyane Wade, which resulted in an ejection, and yelling at the scorer's table because the statisticians missed tallying one of his rebounds).
Vogel could have lost faith in Stephenson, but he didn't. Stephenson's 17 points, five rebounds and eight assists helped Indy eliminate Washington in Game 6 on May 15.
"Very proud of our guys for just showing tremendous grit and toughness." - Coach Vogel on tonight's #PacersWin— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) May 16, 2014
Another player Vogel has helped stay the course is George Hill, who tailed off as the regular season drew to a close but has been a steadier performer in the playoffs.
Oh, and Vogel's .625 winning percentage in the regular season is the highest a Pacers coach has had since Larry Bird last called the shots for the team in 2000.
With consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, Vogel is poised to finally bring a title to the city of Indianapolis.
Why Vogel Must Go
Had the Pacers lost to either the Hawks or the Wizards and Pacers management decided to dismiss Vogel, that decision is justified because of all the expectations riding on the team.
However, Indiana's higher-ups insisted Vogel's job is safe even back then when the Pacers were trailing the Hawks 2-1 in their series, via an April 24 tweet from general manager Kevin Pritchard:
Larry Bird just told me his sources say Frank Vogel's job is safe. @Pacers— Kevin Pritchard (@PacersKev) April 24, 2014
It seems Bird trusts Vogel.
This sounds a bit ironic, considering Bird has never been known to be really vouching for Vogel as Indy's head coach.
On April 24, ESPN.com's Marc Stein wrote about the contract extension Vogel signed last season.
Stein said,"Vogel received a two-year contract extension during the 2012-13 campaign that has him under contract through next season. Yet it should be noted that Vogel received the extension while Bird was away from the Pacers on a one-year sabbatical."
The Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz also discussed the Bird-Vogel relationship on May 2:
One, Bird has never been a big Vogel guy; he supports Vogel, but he's never been a major Vogel proponent. My sense is Bird would rather have a more veteran presence, someone who will hold players accountable and rule with more of an iron fist.
Second, Bird has said in the past he believes coaches have a three-year window to maintain the attention of players. After three years, they tune out coaches—even Bird, who walked as the Pacers coach after three years and an NBA Finals appearance.
Vogel is in his fourth season.
At this point, there is no reason for Vogel to go. He's withstood almost every ordeal possible during the course of the season, and yet, the Pacers are one of two teams left standing in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps all of the trials Vogel has had to endure are just a prelude to winning an NBA title. They were tests of how badly Vogel and his team want to be crowned NBA champions.
All indications say Bird is the only one getting in the way of Vogel's coaching tenure. However, as feeble as the Pacers can be, Vogel has proven he can lead an underachieving No. 1 seed. He's making a statement to Bird that he is the man for the job.
The Parting Shot
Weighing the pros and cons of Vogel's job security paints a clear picture: He has saved his job as head coach of the Indiana Pacers.
How would you grade Frank Vogel's performance this season?
Aside from being an underrated tactician, Vogel is also a patient teacher. Good traditional classroom teachers show faith and patience in their students no matter how much they stray. The students will be successful in the end.
Vogel has done the same thing for the Indiana Pacers. Coaches are teachers, and he has exemplified the virtues of faith and patience which have helped the team go this far.
As decent a job as Vogel has done at this point, he cannot be content with just making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Winning cures everything, as an NBA title is the ultimate form of job security in this league.
That being said, expect Vogel and his boys to go all out in winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the city of Indianapolis.