Bob still loves Vogel. This is almost a week old, but I haven't seen it mentioned here...
There is this hard and fast rule in sports: If a coach is really good at golf, he's probably not working hard enough at his primary job. So here was Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, lining up a seven iron on a par-3 at the team's golf tournament at Brickyard Crossing the other day.The backswing was slow and polished, the balance decent, the head down. Then he proceeded to excavate a divot that flew nearly as far as the ball itself. He dug so deep, you could have built the foundation for a condominium complex right there on the spot.
"Wait," he said. "Throw me another ball."
At which point, he overcompensated and thinned it about 100 yards, or roughly 50 yards short of the hole.
"That wasn't good," he said.
No, it wasn't.
But I like coaches who aren't good at golf. It means they're working. It's another reason the Pacers have entrusted this upcoming season -- and presumably future seasons -- to the right guy, a complete unknown a few years back who has completely changed the Pacers' style and culture and turned them into a team with a chance to win the Central Division. (And by the way, this is the last year of his contract, with a team option next year. It isn't my money, but if it was, I'd guarantee next year in a heartbeat and even think about an extension. Just sayin'.)
Incredibly, this is the first time Vogel and his staff will have an entire preseason to work with their team. He took over two years ago at midseason and resuscitated a flat-lining team, made the players feel good about themselves and got the young players into the lineup. Last year, after the lockout, he led them to a 42-24 record and a second-round series where they pushed the world champion Miami Heat to six games.
"We're going to have time where we can fine tune a lot of things and hammer out the details of our systems where we can execute better on both ends," Vogel said. "Bigger packages, more details, more options. Defensively, we can have more flexibility, work on some zones, defensive switching, different variations of our pick-and-roll defense. "Without practice time (in the shortened season), we had to stick to what we did. This will give us time to not only implement new things but to experiment with certain things."
Consider what he did two years ago, changing the culture on the run while taking over at midseason.
Consider what he did last year with a shortened training camp and very few preseason games, jump-starting that team and leading it to its best season in ages.
Now, this coaching staff -- which will return intact -- will have its first full training camp to grow this interesting young team.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the new season comes attached with expectations. They should win 50 games or so. They should compete for the Central Division crown, especially with Chicago's Derrick Rose out for part of the season. They should get to the second round of the playoffs, at least.
What you like, though, is that they're embracing the expectations. At least Vogel is, telling everybody who will listen that this is a team with championship aspirations. Is that excessive? With Miami, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City around, it is. But Vogel has never been shy about shooting for the moon, and if he thinks big, his team will think big.
The Pacers will win 50 games and get deep into the playoffs if:
>> Roy Hibbert handles the pressure that comes with a rich new contract and continues to improve.
>> George Hill does for an entire season what he did for a month when he started at point guard and helped take the Pacers to the second round.
>> Paul George develops into the kind of offensive threat most of us believe he can become. "What a change I've seen in that kid," Vogel said. "Everything about him has changed, the way he talks, the way he carries himself. He's grown up by leaps and bounds."
>> The second unit improves. This is a new-look second unit with Ian Mahinmi, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green. Already, Green has raised eyebrows with his play during informal workouts. It's also going to be imperative for Tyler Hansbrough to bounce back from a season in which he seemed to lose his confidence at times. As for Lance Stephenson, well, it's put-up-or-shut-up time.
Vogel is unapologetically rah-rah, almost to the point where you shake your head.
Remember the afternoon of Game 5 in Chicago? The Pacers were down three games to one but had played the Bulls to the edge in every game. After the shootaround, Vogel boldly said, "If we win this game, we'll win the series."
Seriously, who says that?
Well, it's the same guy who came out before the Miami series and accused the favored Heat of being the biggest floppers in the league.
He's honest. He's brash. And he brings personality to a team that hasn't been known for anything good for most of the past decade. They've got the right guy running the show.
Even if he could really use a golf lesson.