Rookie mistakes aren’t committed only by players. Coaches can commit them, too. The difference is, a player’s rookie mistake can cost you a couple of points, or at worst, a ballgame. A coach’s rookie mistake can cost you the season.
Prior to Frank Vogel taking over the head coaching position of the Pacers, the team had developed a fairly stable starting lineup in Collison, Granger, Dunleavy, Hibbert and McRoberts. That group didn’t start every game, but compared to the changes that Jim O’Brien put the starting roster through in years past, it was the most stable grouping the Pacers have seen in a while.
When Vogel took over, he didn’t mess with that, but he did put together a stable second unit, featuring AJ Price, Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Foster, and Paul George. That was not the rookie mistake. That was a good move. Resurrecting Dahntay from the DNP section, and letting the second unit settle in, he helped create ‘the Goon Squad,’ a name the players bestowed on themselves…an indicator of strong morale.
It seemed we had a good solid ten-man rotation.
Those two units played together for the first 11 games under Vogel, and went 8-3. Then Dunleavy was gone for the season, while the schedule entered a much more difficult phase. There’s nothing Coach Vogel could do about either one of those unfortunate turns, except to react. He moved Brandon Rush back into a starting role after Rush’s return from an injury, putting a one-time starter back into a group pretty familiar with his presence, and leaving the Goon Squad intact. To my way of thinking, that’s the best he could do under the circumstances.
That lineup worked as a ten man rotation for two games…beating Detroit, losing to Utah. Then the same group, with just four minutes of Lance Stephenson added, lost in OT to Phoenix. With 14 minutes of Stephenson added in the next game, we beat Golden State.
At that point is where I feel Vogel started making his rookie mistake. Facing a tough 3-game road trip with Dunleavy out for the season, facing a home return to face the 76ers, (the team we were chasing in the playoff hunt), and then seven of the next nine games coming on the road…at that very crucial point in a young team’s development, he decided to keep screwing about with the roster.
Based on bad feelings about going .500 in the previous four games, or faced with an obligation (?) to get Lance some serious development minutes…he proceeded to make significant changes in the Goon Squad’s rotations, bringing Price in only after Lance’s minutes.
So. We got stomped by OKC, failed to catch Dallas napping, and lost convincingly at Houston. And many observed that we were most likely always going to lose those games. There was no real meaning there, was there?
The home loss that came next, to Philly, apparently did seem significant to everyone, including Vogel. Never mind that we were without Foster, or that Philly has been beating the top teams in the league lately. The loss to the 76ers, with the minutes given to Lance disrupting an already disrupted rotation, meant CHANGES MUST BE MADE.
So Tyler and Paul George move to the starters, and Lance moves back (mostly) to the bench. The result? We were absolutely made to look bad by the only team in the league with a younger roster than ours, losing 101-75 to the T’Wolves. People were astounded. How could that happen? We’ve followed that up with another never-a-doubt loss in Toronto. Tyler and Paul George start. Lance never leaves the pine.
Now we’re heading into a back-to-back with NYC, and I am asking the basketball spirits to move Coach Frank Vogel to restore the 10-man rotation from the beginning of March. Fill his dreams, spirits. Move his imagination. Make him forget working Lance in, at least for now. Make him restore Tyler and George to the Goon Squad, and pray the chemistry will restabilize.
Maybe it’s too late. Maybe a restored chemistry wouldn’t be enough to get us through this continuing rough patch with some wins anyway. Maybe griping about the lineup is lame. Maybe Tyler and PG would just be more discombobulated by leaving the starters. Maybe some fans will say the heck with it…Tyler and Paul deserve to start and who needs the playoffs anyway? I don’t feel that way, myself. And I believe Bird and Vogel when they say they still want the playoffs.
So how about going backwards? Back to a lineup that’s more familiar to our young roster. Some mistakes can be fixed before they ruin things, and some can’t. But I think a return to normalcy (or as close as we can get) is a step backwards in the right direction.