Larry Bird: Frank Vogel’s job safe, don’t expect changes to core of team

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When the Indiana Pacers take the court next October, they are going to look a lot like the Indiana Pacers that were the second best team in the East this season — a team that seemed to take a lateral step this season, even a backwards one the second half of the year.

Larry Bird is counting on growth from his core — maturity that comes from painful lessons learned this season combined with consistency. Things are not getting blown up.

Bird, the Pacers team president and the guy making the calls in Indiana, was unequivocal in his end-of-season press conference Monday (streamed on the Pacers’ Web site). Like when asked about coach Frank Vogel’s job being safe despite rumors he was coaching for his job these playoffs.

“There was never any doubt. When the media 800 miles away or 1,000 miles away just writes a story and everybody gets all excited about it, it doesn’t make no sense to me. If you had come and asked me I would have told you, I did tell you, his job was safe….

“His job was never in jeopardy.”

If no changes are coming to the coaching staff, what about to the core of a roster that has struggled to score enough offensively even when things are going well?

“I don’t think so. I like the attitude of our guys, they’re great people, great to be around. As far as the bench, Frank and I will sit down and Kevin (Pritchard, team GM) and talk about it. Last year we went out and changed our bench again, they were up and down.”

Even changing the bench in a big way will be easier said than done — even without re-signing Lance Stephenson the Pacers are over the salary cap. They are not going to be able to spend big on free agents, and it’s going to be hard to move any contracts — they don’t want to move Paul George, Roy Hibbert is owed $30.4 million over the next two years (and can opt out after next season, making it scary for any team that trades for him) and George Hill has three years, $24 million left on his deal.

If you want to know where the Pacers trade assets went, remember that they traded Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and their 2014 first round pick for Luis Scola. That move did not work out like planned. At all.

Is Lance Stephenson going to be back in Indiana next fall?

“Well you don’t know, he’s a free agent and can do whatever he wants. But obviously we will talk about it the next week or two, of our game plan… He’s a free agent, he can talk to any team he wants, and when it comes down to it, it comes down to whether he wants to be here or not.”

Does Bird want him back?

“I always want him back. You just don’t let talent like that walk away if you can help it.”

Indiana is following the model that other teams — notably the Memphis Grizzlies, not to mention San Antonio — have tried to use, which is that keeping a core team together for an extended period and let them grow together.

There is something to that, so long as that core does not have an obvious and exploitable flaw. The Pacers inability to create shots the second half of this season could be that. But Bird thinks by adding some more depth, with some tweaks and growth they can overcome it.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan slips and falls while arguing call (video)

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Nate McMillan slipped up in his handling of Victor Oladipo‘s early fouls during the Pacers’ Game 2 loss to the Cavaliers last night.

Then, the Indiana coach literally slipped while arguing that LeBron James should have been called for offensively fouling Lance Stephenson.

LeBron James: Reporter warned me about question on Gregg Popovich’s wife before live TV interview

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In her on-court interview with LeBron James following the Cavaliers’ Game 2 win over the Pacers last night, TNT sideline reporter Allie LaForce asked him about the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife.

LeBron appeared emotional as he gathered his thoughts.

That prompted some to criticize LaForce for ambushing LeBron on a sensitive subject on live TV. But that’s not what happened.

Uninterrupted:

LeBron:

I’m not on social media right now, but I was made aware through some friends through texts that a question was asked to me postgame, and a lot of people feel I was blindsided. That is absolutely false. Allie LaForce told me that she was going to ask the question and if it was OK.

And once I started talking about it, once we were on air, actually my emotions kind of took over. And that was just my emotions coming straight from my heart about the late Erin Popovich.

It’s unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss. My thoughts, my prayers, once again goes out to the Popovich family, to Gregg, to the Spurs family, to the whole Spurs fan base.

And also guys, please get off Allie LaForce’ back, because she followed the proper protocol and she warned me. So, get off her back, man. She’s very professional, and she does a great job at her work.

Like I said, thoughts and prayers to the heavens above. We all know the man above never makes mistakes, even when we question it. But it’s a sad, tragic time right now for the NBA family, and we’re all praying and hoping for the best.

It would have been surprising if LaForce hadn’t done that. Somewhere between nearly nobody and absolutely nobody in her position is trying to embarrass players.

PBT Extra: If Portland is going to turn series around it starts with Damian Lillard

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This was the year the Trail Blazers were going to break through. They were defending better as a team. There was some depth on offense. And Damian Lillard was playing at a level that will get him on many voters’ MVP ballots.

Instead, they are down 0-2 to Anthony Davis and New Orleans, having dropped both games at home to open the series. Portland is on the verge of being bounced in the first round for the third time in four years.

If Portland is going to turn this series around, it starts with Lillard, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. C.J. McCollum needs to get more buckets, Jusuf Nurkic needs to contribute more on both ends, but for Portland it all begins and ends with Lillard and it’s on him to start the turnaround.

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith
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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.