For the second straight season, the Indiana Pacers will be looking to hire a head coach. The Pacers fired Nate Bjorkgren, who failed to gain any traction during his turbulent season in charge. Finding themselves in the same position as they did last season, the best course of action Indiana can take for the long term success of the franchise is to begin a full rebuild, including the front office.
This is extreme for a franchise that needs a competitive product to remain profitable in a small market. But reloading has only seemed to keep Indiana as a marginal playoff contender with little hope for advancement. Much like Oklahoma City, who has stockpiled draft assets and young talent, a short-term losing stretch can payoff, if the fanbase and ownership is patient enough to wait.
Having watched the Pacers for more than 20 years, it seems like Indiana is always competitive, but is never a real contender. If the goal is to make the playoffs each year and to provide a winning product for the fans, people wouldn't be as quick to complain. But if the ambitions are to win a championship, a more drastic and long term strategy should be implemented in Indiana.
The Pacers are not a team that can be expected to compete for a NBA Championship. The team has only managed to make it to the NBA Finals once since coming to the NBA through the ABA merger. The Pacers have had a fair share of bad luck too when it comes to championship ambitions. During the 1990's, the Pacers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals four times. Unfortunately for Indiana, Michael Jordan, one of the greatest players in NBA history was the prevailing force in the decade. The best teams Indiana had the following two decades had the same bad luck, unable to avoid LeBron James, losing to him five of the last ten years.
Indianapolis isn't a destination city either, which makes it extremely difficult to land impactful additions through free agency. Social media has made it possible for players to brand themselves in smaller markets, but with the NBA being a star driven league, the larger markets are always going to win out. Players like Reggie Miller are synonymous with the franchise for their loyalty.
While Miller as a mainstay kept the franchise stable, the Pacers have since had a revolving door of star players and head coaches. Paul George looked to be the franchise player in Indiana before breaking his leg and ultimately wanting out. Victor Oladipo who Indiana got in exchange for George was headed toward a second straight All-Star Game appearance before having his own season-ending knee injury. Oladipo would be casted out this season by Indiana, being sent to Houston before ultimately being dealt again to Miami in another trade that same year.
So as consistent as the Pacers have been in generating a winning product on the court, their constant changes at head coach and yearly roster resets are starting to take their toll on a restless fan base. Even worse, it is leading to a mediocre result with no real chance of achieving meaningful postseason success.
The Pacers also never seem to make a real change by usually hiring internally, which only leads to more turnover. What is concerning for Indiana too is the success their castoffs have had elsewhere. The Pacers at one time were coached by Rick Carlisle, who with Luka Doncic has made Dallas Into a budding contender for an NBA Championship. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel won an NBA Championship last season due in large part to the talent of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Both Carlisle and Vogel have generational talents with their new teams, which makes the job a little easier. But these coaches are in a deeper and more talented Western Conference. It's still a testament to their ability as coaches to play the best competition in the league and adjust over the course of a full season.
It's a coach's job to utilize their roster by the putting the pieces in a position to succeed. Quality talent is required to win a championship and usually needs less direction by experience and talent alone. But any team needs a leader with a plan on how to achieve the desired outcome. What happens when one of those generational players goes down in a key game? How does a team respond when their opponent adjusts or is more talented? Talent is without a doubt the most important factor to championship ambitions, but coaching can be the difference in close contests. The Pacers have always had respectable talent and coaching that kept them competitive. But it's been ages since they really started from square one with a brand new slate. Stability is great and the teaching of Carlisle, Vogel or McMillan would have been especially welcomed during a season where COVID-19 is still a real concern. Through all of the change, there has only been minuscule differences in results.
The Pacers have cut ties with multiple coaches who would have provided the exact results we've seen through each change. This seems even plausible with Nate McMillan being the latest defected Pacers head coach to see success elsewhere.
Constant coaching turnover eventually causes mixed messaging and locker room turmoil, exactly what people saw from Indiana this season. Hiring new coaches does provide a fresh voice to a team, but internal hires and change just for the sake of change is irresponsible for long term success. If the Pacers are going to make a change, they should be fully invested and begin a total rebuild. Whether a small market team like the Pacers can keep the fans interested long enough to see the plan play out without financial strain and backlash is a whole different problem. This rebuild will cost the Pacers time and money, two things fans and ownership don't want to hear in this market after 44 years without a championship. But it might be the only way they can breakout from under their complicit playoff contention year to year.
Jimmy Kennedy, who believes the Pacers should begin a full rebuild, can be reached at email@example.com