The Pacers need to improve their coaching staff in the offseason

The Pacers' coaching staff has plenty of room for improvement in the offseason, specifically on the defensive end.
Indiana Pacers v Dallas Mavericks
Indiana Pacers v Dallas Mavericks / Tim Heitman/GettyImages

The Indiana Pacers won 47 games in the regular season and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to a lot of aspects, their coaching being one of them. Over the past season, Rick Carlisle has headed the best offense in the NBA while assistants like Jenny Boucek, Lloyd Pierce, Jim Boylen, and Jannero Pargo provide extra help on both ends when it is needed.

However, if the playoffs have taught us anything, it's that the Pacers' coaching staff is not a finished product. Specifically, they lack two key aspects of the game, those being defense and late-game execution. Both of those aspects were lacking in their Game 3 loss against Boston, where, for the third game in a row, Indiana gave up open three-pointer after open three-pointer after over-helping on every single Boston screen.

Specifically, Al Horford shot 7/12 from deep with basically every three being wide-open and no adjustments being made throughout the game. In fact, Horford's last two threes were made in the exact same way, off a Jayson Tatum behind-the-back pass as the Pacers' defense double-teamed him, leaving Horford wide open in the corner to let it fly.

Additionally, Indiana's late-game execution has been downright awful this series and is perhaps the main reason why they find themselves in this hole. The Pacers should be up 2-1 in this series if they had kept their pace for the entirety of Games 1 and 3, but they faltered in the closing stretches both times. In Game 1, Rick Carlisle's failure to call a timeout was a blunder that he himself brought up afterward, and his decision to refuse to call a timeout after a Pacers' rebound in the closing seconds of Game 3 played a big part in costing the Pacers that game as well.

That, combined with Indiana's lack of competent defense in all three games, especially Game 2, where they allowed Boston to shoot 53% from the field and 40% from deep, paints a pretty vivid picture of the areas the Pacers need to work on this offseason.

While some of these issues can be fixed by certain players, such as Jarace Walker getting more minutes to help Indiana's defense or a trade for someone like Mikal Bridges, a lot of the burden falls onto the coaching staff too.

After all, they are the people ultimately giving the players the command on what to do out there, and it is clear that the Pacers' double-heavy, poor transition defense is not getting it done and will not get it done if Indiana wants to make another deep playoff run anytime soon. The Pacers need defensive coaching help this offseason. As for who they can turn to, two options come to mind.

Frank Vogel was recently fired by the Phoenix Suns after they got swept in the first round. Currently, Vogel remains a free agent on the coaching market, with no team inquiring about his services publicly. This gives the Pacers a perfect chance to swoop in and rehire Vogel, this time as an assistant.

Some fans are still uneasy about how Vogel was let go in 2016, feeling like he was scapegoated by Larry Bird and the front office. A reunion with the Pacers feels perfect for both sides, as Vogel is a defensive-minded assistant who helped Indiana achieve the best defense in the NBA a decade prior and did wonders with the Lakers' defense during their 2020 title run.

Throughout recent NBA history, it has been shown that superstar point guards who are offensive engines perform very well with defensive coaches, take Nate McMillan's work with the 2021 Atlanta Hawks and Trae Young for example.

By no means do the Pacers need to fire Rick Carlisle and immediately replace him with Frank Vogel, far from it. However, the addition of Vogel as Indiana's lead defensive assistant would be fantastic to give the team a defensive identity, which it completely lacks at the moment.

Speaking of former Pacers' staff members, Dan Burke is another choice that comes to mind. An assistant with the Pacers from 1997 to 2020, Burke helped coach some of the best defenses in the league during his 23-year stint with the team.

The Pacers ranked in the league's top 10 defensive teams for five seasons with Burke there and even had the league's best defense rating in 2013–14. They also ranked in the NBA's top 10 for defensive field goal percentage 13 times during his last 17 seasons as an assistant coach.

After the 2019-20 season, however, Burke was not brought back by Indiana and instead went to the Philadelphia 76ers to immediately boost their defense. As a result, the Pacers' defense almost immediately suffered. The Pacers went from having the sixth-best defensive rating in the league in 2020 to having the 13th-best in 2021, to plummeting to third-worst in the league in 2022. Currently, Burke is an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons under Monty Williams.

If it is possible, the Pacers should try to pry Burke away from the sunken ship in Detroit and entice him to an Indiana return. Burke is a proven defensive coach and has the resume to back it up, with most of his work coming with the Pacers during some of their most remembered years.

A reunion under Rick Carlisle, whom he assisted during his first stint as Indiana's coach around 20 years ago, would work out for both sides, as Burke can coach meaningful basketball games again and the Pacers can take advantage and gradually straighten their defensive errors.

As for late-game execution, that can get a bit tricky. Perhaps Carlisle should look to assistant coach Jenny Boucek more on that matter, or the late-game issues will start to smoothen out as the players themselves get more experience under their belts.

Who knows, maybe the Pacers' lack of spark down the stretch can be fixed rather soon with the players getting a taste of playoff action. Either way, this seems like an easier issue to fix than the defensive problems, which stretch out much wider and are far more evident every night.

Indiana currently has a good foundation, and have won two playoff rounds with it. However, the front office should not be satisfied with their current progress and should look to improve the team around the edges, with the coaching staff being no exception.


A team with an offensive mind like Rick Carlisle with the help of assistant coaches like Dan Burke and Frank Vogel providing defensive input has the makings of a contender in this league sooner rather than later. It is up to Indiana if they want to capitalize on this opportunity and perhaps lure some coveted staff members to Indiana, or in these cases, back to Indiana.