GBB: What was the Frank Vogel era like in Indiana?
Lewis: Frank Vogel took over as interim coach during the 2010-11 season, after the Pacers started 17-27 and had their spirit broken by Jim O'Brien. Vogel quickly infused a positive mindset, talking playoffs from his first day on the job. The players responded, winning seven of their first eight games under Vogel's guidance to close the season 20-18, sneaking into the playoffs. Vogel also gave then-rookie Paul George an opportunity to play, and though the Pacers were beaten in the first round by the Bulls 4-1, all but one of the games were highly competitive and PG's defensive effort in the series was a revelation. Vogel lost the interim tag and the Pacers would make the playoffs the next three seasons, losing each year to Miami after LeBron went to South Beach. After missing the playoffs last season with PG out due to injury, the Pacers met and in some cases exceeded expectations this season by returning to the playoffs. Throughout the successful seasons there were always stretches of frustrations as the Pacers seemed unable to handle much success without going through stretches with poor effort or execution. They seemed mentally soft at times, something Larry Bird pointed out publicly. This played a large role in Bird's decision to move in another direction.
GBB: Do you think Vogel is a good coach?
Lewis: I think Vogel is a very good coach who cut his teeth in the profession by chopping up game film and helping develop game plans. He's exceptional at putting together a game plan to give his team a chance to win, regardless of the opponent. He is relentlessly positive and has some impressive player development achievements, including getting more out of Roy Hibbert than anyone thought humanly possible and incorporating Lance Stephenson into a valuable role on a title contending team.
GBB: What was the fan opinion of Vogel during his time as head coach in Indiana?
Lewis: The fan opinion is mixed due to the nature of the NBA. When things don't go well, a certain faction of fans pins it all on the coach. Another faction leans on the 'players league' mantra and blames the players for not being ready to play. Overall though, Vogel is highly regarded for his tenure with the Pacers. Despite the frustrations along the way, he was extremely successful with his teams outperforming the sum of their parts. This season in particular was impressive due to the lineup changes, PG returning from injury, and Bird expecting the team to play smaller. Vogel had to make a few adjustments on the fly, eventually returning to a more comfortable style of play that fit the roster better.
GBB: What are/were his strengths and weaknesses as a head coach?
Lewis: I think Vogel's best strength is putting together a game plan for his guys to beat your guys. His positive nature is a net strength when it comes to player and team development, but not exposing a harsher edge at times was a negative. Vogel's teams struggled with in-game adjustments and key plays late in games, but the lack of success wasn't always the design but instead execution on the floor. Vogel also tends to play 9-10 players quite a bit and ran into trouble sticking by his playing rotation even in big games when tightening up the rotation seemed necessary. Vogel took over the Pacers at age 37 and created a positive culture for the team that continued throughout his five years with the Pacers. I really think he will be better in his next opportunity, having a fresh start with high level experience to establish a team culture that may be more mature as he applies lessons learned with the Pacers.
GBB: Would he be a good fit here in Memphis? How likely is he to take the job?
Lewis: I have no idea how likely Vogel would be to take the job, but I think he'd be a great fit. The Grizzlies have a roster of players that fit a style of play Vogel is comfortable with - namely a defensive-minded, smashmouth team that can still create offense. Pacers' fans covet Mike Conley, but assuming Conley returns with a healthy Marc Gasol, Vogel will have more than enough key pieces to put together a quality team in Memphis.