Pacers Fire O'Brien - Stay Tuned


Larry Bird said it was his decision.

Frank Vogel said he was excited and ready for the challenge, but wished it was under different circumstances.

Bob Kravitz said that Bird was telling us a story, and that this move was driven by owner Herb Simon.  How much of that is true, and how much of that is a self-serving attempt to show the prescience of his recent diatribe,  it’s difficult to tell.  Watching Bird’s presser through several times did cause me to wonder if Bird was feeling the heat.

Bird clearly outlined enough of his own complaints about Jim O’Brien – mostly surrounding his use of the younger players (Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George, and Lance Stephenson mentioned by name) and O’Brien’s critical style (particularly in regards to Roy Hibbert) – to justify the termination, so there’s valid reason to believe that Bird was speaking true when he said that it was his call.  However, there was just enough discomfort and subtext of desperation when talking about the roster and future player moves to make  a conspiracy theorist wonder whether he was explaining his decision, or rationalizing someone else’s.

Frank Vogel takes over, and when asked if he planned to make immediate changes, he responded with an emphatic, “Yes.”  When asked to elaborate, he said, “Stay tuned.”   Perhaps he was being coy, but if you watch the presser and the interview with Conrad Brunner linked above, you’ll see a guy who for all the world looks like he’s drinking from a fire hose.

Of course, that’s perfectly understandable.  This is a huge challenge for him, and the next three months could very well make or break his career in the NBA.  Only a fool wouldn’t be at least a little agog.  However,  I suspect the changes he’s already decided to make will be the ones articulated earlier by Larry Bird.   We’ll see more of Tyler and Paul, and we’ll get a chance to see Lance Stephenson play.  There will be minor stylistic changes, but both Bird and Vogel pointed out how hard it was to change styles in the middle of the season.

It seems relatively obvious to me that Frank Vogel will be his own man, but that man will have an astounding number of opinions that are in perfect sync with Larry Bird.

A few days ago, I had basically said that while O’Brien was a problem, he wasn’t the problem.  I can understand the firing of O’Brien, and it’s impossible to make a full-throated – or even half-hearted – case that he should have been allowed to finish the year.  However, I still believe he wasn’t the problem, he was just a problem that Bird or Simon or whoever you want to believe was pulling the strings thought they could solve.

O’Brien’s firing removes a great deal of chaos and noise from the situation.  He was being booed in pre-game introductions and skewered in the local radio talk shows and forums.  No doubt these issues made the lives of the Pacers’ front office miserable.  So those are now gone, and the focus should move…to where?

First, it will come to Larry Bird.  This was his team – his coach and his players.  By firing O’Brien, he’s removed one of his and his players’ biggest shields.  There won’t be any more random hip-shot quotes to distract from the basic questions that haunt this roster.  Vogel and his inexperience may create some deflection, but the fact of the matter now is that it’s all about Bird and his players now.

And, really, it’s about no player more than Roy Hibbert.  Remember how I said that O’Brien wasn’t the problem?  That’s because I believe that Roy Hibbert is the problem.  Just as he was key to the early success, he was the author of the team’s decline.  I have rarely seen a player respond so poorly to the challenges posed by a more attentive defense.  I have rarely seen a player decline so precipitously.

And the vast majority of the Pacers’ problems have flowed from this – at both ends.  It’s robbed the team of any semblance of an inside presence, and made the entire structure of first the offense, and now the defense, unstable.

Much of the benefits of removing O’Brien will be around the edges.  You’ll see more young players, and (I hope) you see more stable rotations.  However, I’ve said before, and continue to maintain, that the Pacer season rises and falls based on the core – Danny Granger, Darren Collison, and Roy Hibbert.  While fans may like seeing more McRoberts and Hansbrough, and less Posey, it won’t make any meaningful difference if those three, and especially Hibbert, don’t play well.

Of course, there has been/is/will be a rush to lay Hibbert’s problems at O’Brien’s feet.  Bird alluded to it in his press conference, and even Hibbert himself seemed to be positioning for it according to Mike Wells’ Tweets.

Hibbert on O’Brien firing, “It’ll be a different atmosphere. Hopefully it’ll re-energize us to move forward.”

More Hibbert, “I hate to see anybody lose their job. It’s going to be on all of us to get this thing turned around.”

Well, maybe it’s true.  Maybe O’Brien was crushing Hibbert’s soul.  I’m not in the locker room, so I don’t know.  I guess we’ll find out.  I can only say that the comments by O’Brien of which so much hay has been made weren’t anywhere near harsh enough to justify this.  In fact, they were relatively mild and 100% accurate.  Of course, O’Brien was of no help in the situation and was failing in his responsibility to help Hibbert work through his issues.  However, I still believe that Hibbert’s issues – and the team’s issues – were caused by Hibbert himself.

So, now, this becomes Vogel’s biggest job.  He must get Hibbert back to not being a detriment to the team – at the very least – and if they want to make the playoffs, then Hibbert must become productive again.

I’d feel much better about this possibility if in watching Vogel, I wasn’t strongly reminded of this scene from The Candidate:

Tags: Frank Vogel Herb Simon Jim O'Brien Larry Bird

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  • BPump33

    I 100% agree with you about us rising and falling with the core. In my opinion our core guys are the ones who had the biggest problem with O’Brien, so I’m expecting much better play. I have nothing to back that up other than body language/interviews, etc. I expect Roy to step up as he did in the off-season and help lead these guys to the playoffs. If that doesn’t happen, then Roy is not the player/leader I thought he was and I will fully admit that I was wrong about him.

  • http://www.eightpointsnineseconds.com Tim Donahue

    Bryon,

    I can’t really argue with you. Clearly there was dysfunction, and O’Brien played a role in it. However, more and more, situations like these make me think of this scene from the end of “The Caine Mutiny.”

    It’s a good movie, even if Ensign Willie Keith was unbearably creepy.

    There’s no doubt that I’m getting old, and that there’s an undeniable amount of “Get offa my lawn” mentality seeping into my world view. However, I just don’t think anybody in that locker room or in that front office should be happy today. They should be scared.

    This was their failure as much – if not more – than Jim’s. No question you could creatively draw parallels between Queeg’s strawberries and Jim’s fear of Luol Deng and use of James Posey, but the core never stepped up as well.

    I may understand their frustration and reaction. In crystalline moments of honesty, I might admit that I would have (and possibly have) behaved the same way that they did. But actions being understandable don’t necessarily make them admirable – or even respectable.

    Jim O’Brien is gone, but the players are still there – and the vast majority of them have yet to prove a single thing that would show they will be productive contributors to a winning team. This failure will always be a part of who they are, and now they need to show that they can and will respond to it.

    Put simply, the players played and behaved poorly. Even if O’Brien drove them to it, they are still the ones who played and behaved poorly. Until they prove otherwise, that is who I will see them as.

  • Kyle Brewster

    I can tell you right now; Lance’s off court choices is the reason he hasn’t seen PT. I don’t want him to see him get PT till he gets that part of his life straight. Two embarrassing off court issues in just 9 months with the franchise. I do love PG’s game but not a believer in Psycho-T. McBobs has been so great that he has to continue to start. Offense looks better with him in there with Big Roy. Danny and Darren just have to keep on keepin’…this team is far from good but not far the playoffs. WE CAN DO THIS!!

  • Michael

    Have to disagree with the McBob assesment. If you’ve watched any games this year, you can tell he’s a little out of his league. He can finish strong and probably has slightly above average rebounding ability based on his athleticism but he can’t guard guys who play his position and generally is out of position on a lot of plays on both ends. It only takes a few turnovers or poor shots to completely change the game. He’s a great energy guy coming off the bench, but not someone you want starting on a competing team. In limited minutes, Hansbrough has produced. He can get to the line at will and gets the Pacers extra possesions. I don’t think he’s the answer at PF either but I’d rather see him out there before McBob any day of the week.

  • flox

    While I agree with your assessment nearly 100%, I never thought Roy was going to ever be ready for this or be someone who carries the team. I continue to expect these struggles and I don’t think this will be fixed by simple coaching.

    Vogel said that he has a commitment to make Hibbert into a low/high player and to get him more touches. I agree with that. But I think it’s more of a sign of how much trouble we are in if we don’t get another player on this team that can take pressure off of our core. While I approve of developing Roy, I fear that our team is doomed until we get someone else to help out Roy down low.

  • BPump33

    Tim,

    I don’t disagree with you at all. It all ultimately falls on the players and in no way am I condoning their play/behavior. I just hope getting rid of O’B has a positive impact on both.

  • http://www.eightpointsnineseconds.com Tim Donahue

    I’m definitely pulling for a positive result.

  • Ian2

    You can put the blame on Hibbert, but I’ll repeat again something I believe very strongly. A coach’s #1 job, in any sport, is to put his players in positions where they can be successful. That is even more important with young players, since success breeds success and visa versa.

    It has been my feeling that O’Brien asked too much of Hibbert and didn’t give him the help he needed when things got tougher. As a result Hibbert fell into a spiral of poor self confidence as each bad result fed a further bad result.

    The best thing that we can hope for is that the new coach figures out a way to get Hibbert involved without making him carry the weight of the team’s success/failure.

  • flox

    Hey Tim, you were definitely right about O’Brien quitting on the Pacers.

    “Details are starting to leak out about the meeting between Pacers president Larry Bird and head coach Larry O’Brien that lead to O’Brien’s unexpected firing. Ultimately, O’Brien told Bird he felt the Pacers just aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, that no matter what he does as a coach the team simply isn’t up to the challenge.

    Bird disagreed, and frankly, it’s easy to see why. On paper the Pacers are certainly a playoff team, especially in the notoriously weak Eastern Conference. The top five teams in the East are radically impproved or cemented into the playoff picture, but beyond that one of the last three spots should be very much within Indiana’s reach.”

    Source: Bill Ingram: http://www.hoopsworld.com/Story.asp?story_id=18628#ixzz1CecZVVCy

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