Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel struck a somber tone after his team bowed out of the playoffs, thanks to a 117-92 loss to the Miami Heat. He also gave credit where it's due, comparing LeBron James and the Miami Heat to the greatest of all time.
And by "Michael Jordan of our era," rest assured Vogel was referring to none other than LeBron James. Vogel also described the Heat as the "Chicago Bulls of our era," drawing a parallel to a team that eventually won six titles throughout the 1990s.
David West shared another apt comparison.
Vogel was nevertheless proud of his team's effort, noting that it came within two wins of a trip to the NBA Finals and reminding us all that the Pacers did indeed win 56 games this season. He suggested that his core was good enough to reload over the summer and do better next time.
It's the third straight season in which the Pacers exited the playoffs on account of Erik Spoelstra's Heat. So you can understand where Vogel is coming from—this challenge seems all but insurmountable at this point.
Vogel deserves credit for navigating his Pacers through a season in which distractions reigned supreme. It wasn't always pretty, but Indiana survived two rounds of the postseason and managed to steal a couple of games from Miami in the process.
Nevertheless, even the waning moments of the season were replete with struggles. The Associated Press (via ESPN.com) details a few:
Some Indiana issues in the last three games include: Floundering late to lose Game 2 at home, blowing a 15-point lead at Miami in Game 3, Lance Stephenson calling LeBron James out before Game 4, Roy Hibbert failing to score a point Monday, and Paul George and David West both putting that loss on what they thought was one-sided officiating.
Now the question turns to whether the Pacers can regroup and forge a better effort next season. The core group is expected to remain largely the same, but Lance Stephenson will be a free agent after leading the league in triple-doubles and, arguably, leading the league with perplexing decisions.
It's unclear whether the Pacers will opt to spend big money on a guy who can produce numbers and headaches alike.
Other changes may be in order given that Indiana looked heavily outgunned by the Heat in these playoffs. Vogel probably shouldn't be a casualty, but some of his personnel certainly may be.
In a league whose bottom line always amounts to getting better, the Pacers still have some work to do. And they have the Jordan of our era with which to contend.