If it isn't optimistic, Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel doesn't want to hear it.
He doesn't deny the brutal blows his team suffered this summer—first the free-agent exit of Lance Stephenson, then Paul George's horrific injury at Team USA's scrimmage in Sin City—but he doesn't process them the same way many others have.
He can't sulk about the damage done because he's too excited thinking about what his team can do this season. While some focus on Indiana's lost production, Vogel is already mapping out routes to new sources, be it expanded roles for some familiar faces or new opportunities for the fresh ones.
Speaking with Bleacher Report as part of his involvement with the Dove Men+Care "Easy Decision" campaign, Vogel addressed a number of topics, including why he's optimistic for the 2014-15 campaign, how his team will answer the questions this summer created and what would make this year a success.
Bleacher Report: What allows you to be optimistic entering this season, and what will your message to your team be as you get ready for the start of the year?
FV: We still have a lot of great reasons to be confident in our abilities this year. We’ve got a winning culture, a proven system. We’ve got much of our rotation intact. We have always been a team of balance, where no one player is greater than the team.
While certainly we’re going to lose a lot by not having Paul George in there, we still have our power forward rotation intact with [David] West and [Luis] Scola, our center rotation intact with [Roy] Hibbert and [Ian] Mahinmi, and our point guard rotation intact with George Hill and C.J. Watson.
So, it’s just a matter of filling the holes at the wings, and we’ve got guys that are more than capable. We signed Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles in the offseason, two guys that are veterans, experienced guys. It’s not like we’re getting really old guys or D-League guys in here. We also have some big-time shooters that are going to get some minutes at the small forward position in Chris Copeland and Damjan Rudez, one of the best shooters in Europe last year. A second-year player in Solomon Hill is going to get a heck of an opportunity to play a lot. We think he’s an elite defensive player.
Like I said, those guys are capable players. They’re going to have great opportunities in front of them. So, there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic, to be positive and encouraged that we’re going to have another great season. And we’re looking forward to getting started.
BR: With the bar set as high as you’re planning on putting it, what does this team need to do to meet or even exceed your expectations?
FV: We’re going to have to rediscover a new identity on the offensive end. We played a lot through our wings, Lance Stephenson and Paul George, last year. We’re going to have to play through our wings some this year again, because like I said we have guys that are capable.
But we’re going to have adjust some. We’ll probably play more through the post. Our point guards will be more involved in the offense than they were the last couple years.
And then we’re going to have to fill the gap of not having Paul George on the defensive end. You know, he’s someone that we could put on any perimeter player and he basically would blanket them for most of the game. We’re not going to have that luxury this year, so we’re going to have to be more dialed in, more tied together and hold these guys to a higher standard on the defensive end. That’s what we’re planning to do.
BR: Lance Stephenson and Paul George ranked first and second in assists for you last season. Who do you anticipate picking up the slack in terms of your team’s playmaking?
FV: I think Rodney Stuckey in the pick-and-roll game, and C.J. Miles in the pin-down game will be part of it, but I look for George Hill to carry a much bigger load than he’s carried in the past. He’s more than capable, he just hasn’t been asked to do it.
But also, the re-emergence of Roy Hibbert inside. He became a fourth or fifth option for us with the emergence of Lance Stephenson and Paul George, and it wasn’t really due to his play, but just the stellar play of the two guys I just mentioned.
I think those guys will pick up a bigger load, and obviously our rock, David West, will help carry us through most of the season like he has in past years.
BR: Looking at George Hill, he averaged almost 16 points a night when he put up at least 10 shots last season. How important is his aggression going to be for your offensive success?
FV: It’s going to be really important, even more so than years past, and he’s ready. He’s ready to step up and handle that sort of load.
Like I said, if we asked him to do that last year, he would have done that last year. He’s a selfless player, and [he] took some heat for maybe being too passive and too selfless, but that’s what this team needed him to do last year. This year’s team needs him to be more assertive and carry more of a load, and he’s ready to do that.
BR: Your center, Roy Hibbert, is one of the most scrutinized All-Stars I can remember in recent years. How do you view him as a player and his role on this team?
FV: Well, his No. 1 role on our team is to protect the rim, and he’s the No. 1 rim protector in the game, and that’s what everybody that wanted to criticize him last year often lost sight of. We were the best defensive team in the NBA, and he was the reason why.
He made the All-Star team because he’s a two-way player, a dominant defensive force and a capable offensive player. He struggled a little bit on the offensive end, [but] it didn’t change anything he did on the defensive end. I thought much of the criticism was unfair, and I think he’s going to come back and pick up a little more of the offensive load while continuing to dominate the defensive end. I expect great things from Roy this year.
BR: How much bigger of an offensive load do you think he can carry? Do you have any sort of numbers in mind in terms of points or shot attempts for him?
FV: Well, coaches don’t dictate number of shots, defense dictates number of shots, but we’ll certainly play through him more in the post.
I don’t think anybody on our team is going to have a dramatically increased role from where they were in the past. Everybody has got to pick up the slack, not one player. George Hill is going to have a slightly increased role, Hibbert is going to have a slightly increased role, the bench is going to have a slightly increased role and our new wings will, as well.
I don’t think it’s going to be a matter of, ‘Well, he’s got to average 20 points a game now,’ or anything like that. It’s just a matter of we’re going to play through him more.
BR: Defense has been the identity of this team. You lost two of your best defenders this offseason. How do you maintain that identity?
FV: We’re going to demand a high level of defensive proficiency no matter who is on the court. We’ve got guys that are more than capable. We don’t have the superstar ability defensively in Paul George, and that’s something that is going to be the biggest challenge to overcome.
But we’ve got a great team scheme. David West is sort of our middle linebacker on the defensive end with a great basketball IQ. He’ll continue to lead us out there. Roy Hibbert, No. 1 rim protector in the game, will be in front of the rim. And George Hill is one of the best point guard defenders in the game.
We still have more than enough to be a great defensive team. It will be more of a challenge without Paul George out there, but we’re going to get after it.
BR: What needs to happen in order for this season to be considered a success in your eyes?
FV: We got to play together, we got to move the basketball and we got to sustain the defensive toughness that we’ve had over the last couple years. If those things happen, we’ll have a successful year.
BR: You have overseen some of the league’s toughest defenses in recent seasons. Which team has been the hardest to game-plan against?
FV: Every team is different in terms of who they match up with more than which offense.
Obviously, the way San Antonio moves the ball makes it difficult for any defense, but the teams that have given us problems are the ones that play with what we call a “stretch 5” offensive attack with five three-point shooters out there. They’re able to draw Roy Hibbert away from the basket, so either it lends itself to open perimeter shots or Roy chasing the three-point line and opening things up at the rim.
I think that was as much of our late-season challenge as anything, when we were being criticized for not being as dominant as we were earlier in the year. It was a matter of matchups. We played two teams in the playoffs in the Miami Heat and the Atlanta Hawks who were difficult matchups. Those are the biggest challenges.
BR: Are there any offensive players in particular who cause you to lose sleep the night before a game?
FV: There’s plenty of them (laughing).
Two of them are now in our division on the same team in Kevin Love and LeBron James. Derrick Rose, coming back into the fold, is a dynamic scorer. I think Kevin Durant is a guy that there’s really no matchups for, you just got to compete and do your best.
BR: This Dove Men+Care “Easy Decision” campaign involves helping fantasy football players make better decisions with their teams. Are you a fantasy football player?
FV: I’m not in a league, but everybody in my neighborhood is, and it’s a topic of conversation every time I’m hanging out with the fellas. They’ve all been alerted to this great service that Dove Men+Care is doing by partnering up with ESPN and their fantasy division.
BR: If your players abandoned ship and headed over to the NFL, who would be the best Pacer to draft to a fantasy football team?
FV: I think David West could probably play quarterback and linebacker, so I think probably he’d be the best bet.