Report: Frank Vogel “coaching for his job” in wake of team’s slide

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I’m not of the belief that Frank Vogel forgot how to coach over the All-Star break. Sure, the drinks are strong in New Orleans, but not THAT strong. Vogel had spent years building a team first system in Indiana that worked well when guys bought in, but when Roy Hibbert started to slump to Kendrick Perkins offensive levels, and when other guys started breaking out of the system, it all came apart. That includes a Game 1 loss to the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs (the Pacers bounced back for a Game 2 win).

Vogel could not easily right the ship — he tends to be inflexible and the Pacers stick to their script no matter what — but how much of this is really on him?

Apparently some in Indiana think a lot.

Vogel is coaching to save his job, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Vogel, despite a 56-win season that secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, is “coaching for his job” in the wake of Indiana’s alarming slide that has stretched into its third month.

Following Indiana’s 101-85 triumph over Atlanta in Game 2 of the teams’ first-round series, sources told ESPN.com that coming back to win the series against the Hawks would not automatically ensure Vogel’s safety….

The decision on whether to retain Vogel at season’s end ultimately rests with Pacers president Larry Bird, sources said, but frustration throughout the organization has been mounting thanks to a nosedive that began in February with a loss in Orlando just before the All-Star break and has show few signs of abating.

If the Pacers make the mistake of firing Vogel other teams will be lined up to grab him. Vogel has shown he can build a culture and system that, with the right players, can win a lot of games and go deep in the playoffs (they made the Eastern Conference Finals last season). You think a building program like Utah could use that kind of guy? And that’s just one example.

Vogel built a system designed around Roy Hibbert’s size and defense that is designed to shut off penetration, that is big and physical. He doesn’t like to vary from that. Which has worked quite well for the Pacers, until the second half of this season. However, in Game 2 we saw adjustments from the Pacers — Paul George on Jeff Teague, switching pick-and-rolls to stop Pero Antic and Paul Millsap from having uncontested threes — but ones that stayed within their identity.

Bird might want to look in the mirror — his moves at the deadline to help this team simply did not. Evan Turner has been a bust, unable to really play in the Indy system (and losing Danny Granger was an emotional blow to the locker room). Andrew Bynum didn’t really hurt this team but if you had any expectations he would help them you hadn’t watched a lot of Bynum in the last couple years.

Vogel is not blameless in the slide, something else Stein, with the help of Chris Broussard, writes about:

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reports that sources with knowledge of the Pacers’ locker room dynamic have been insisting for months that Indiana would miss the presence of assistant coach Brian Shaw, who left the club last summer to become the Denver Nuggets’ head man.

Broussard reports that, with Vogel known for being “completely positive” in his approach to dealing with players, Shaw often played the role of “bad cop” and helped keep the Pacers’ potentially volatile locker room from imploding. Shaw’s absence didn’t appear to be an issue early this season, but some insiders believe his absence has been felt during the Pacers’ splintering over the past few months.

That said the issues in Indy are more about the players on the roster and the lack of shot creators far more than it is coaching or styles.

Indy seemed to find some footing in their Game 2 win over the Hawks, but it’s just the first step on a long road to recovery. A road that has a good Washington team (they are good when Nene plays) standing in the way.

But this season is not close to something Vogel should be fired over.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.