INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel is eager to start the rebuild.
He needs to find a new starting lineup, figure out how to use his revamped roster effectively and implement a new style of play. After all the expected offseason moves become official, starting Thursday, Vogel’s task will be putting all of those pieces back in place.
“There will be some challenges but that’s what coaching is about, adjusting,” Vogel said before leaving town last weekend for the Pacers’ summer league games in Florida. “Every year you have changes on the roster and you have to tailor your system to the roster. That’s a challenge year in and year out, and that’s something I enjoy.”
Sure he’s dealt with the NBA’s annual rash of injuries over his 4 ½ seasons as a head coach, and he spent most of last season looking for fill-ins to replace injured All-Star Paul George.
But Vogel has never presided over such a sweeping offseason overhaul.
Less than two years after a second straight Eastern Conference final appearance, David West, a four-year starter, opted out of his contract and is expected to sign with San Antonio as he continues to chase that elusive NBA title. Two-time All-Star center Roy Hibbert opted into his contract, but the Pacers immediately put him on the trading block and have apparently found a taker in the Los Angeles Lakers.
The looming departures of two plodding, high-priced starters gave Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird a chance to change directions. He didn’t hesitate.
Indiana took Myles Turner, an athletic shot-blocking big man, with the 11th pick in last month’s draft and added combo guard Joe Young in the second round. Bird’s sales pitch persuaded free agent guard Monta Ellis to turn down more money from Sacramento to accept a four-year, $44 million deal that the dynamic scorer is expected to sign early next week.
The Pacers kept backup guard Rodney Stuckey with a three-year, $21 million contract that includes a player option in the third year, and they’re bringing back forward-center Lavoy Allen on a multi-year deal worth $3 million per year.
Bird may not be finished making moves, either.
“There’s probably still some work to be done,” Vogel said Friday. “This is where it’s all going to play out in the next month or maybe two.”
Now comes the hard part: Making everything work.
While the concept of ditching the old-school, half-court offense for the trendier up-tempo philosophy seems ideally suited for Indiana’s two remaining cornerstone players, George and point guard George Hill, big questions loom.
As George continues to recover from the broken right leg he suffered last August, it’s still unclear if or when he will regain his old form. The Pacers expect him to log at least some regular minutes this season as an undersized forward.
“We’re going to play him there some, how much is to be determined,” Vogel said.
Vogel also is challenging players to report in better shape so they don’t wear down and acknowledges he may have to go deeper into the bench than he has in past years.
“Is it going to be more demanding? No question about it,” Vogel said. “But I think it will be more rewarding, too.”
Inside the organization, everyone knows the transition to small ball will be more difficult than it might seem.
But after missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2010, the only thing that really matters to the Pacers is whether the changes make them more competitive in an increasingly stronger Eastern Conference and the suddenly loaded Central Division.
“We don’t anticipate being a Paul Westhead offense where we score 140 points. But we’ve got to get better on the offensive end without giving anything up on defense,” Vogel said. “I’m really looking forward to it, trying to reach a higher level than we’ve been too. Not trying to get back to where we’ve been, we’re trying to reach a higher level.”