Firing Mel Daniels over his (rumored) spilling the Pacers guts to Peter Vecsey seems like more of a distraction from the story Vecsey ran with than the story itself. Last year Vecsey got loudly bashed by the Bulls organization for writing that John Paxson was going to step down as GM. And after loudly bashing Vecsey, Paxson.... stepped down as GM.
So that brings us to the Pacers and Larry Bird. Based on the various articles and interviews directly with him I've heard, I find it very believable that Bird might step down at the end of the year. He's never looked like a man happy with "living the life" to me. And if that's the case, I think it's especially improper to extend the coach. If you're a short-timer, don't commit the team to a multi-million dollar expenditure to lock in your buddy. That's not right in any case, but it's especially not right in the case of a that's already struggling financially in a small market
When you see stuff like that going on, it explains why the Pacers are struggling so badly. Good businesses don't do that. Also, good businesses don't have to hire pollsters to tell them what their fans are thinking. It's a relatively extravagant expense that doesn't yield any thing useful. If the Pacers brass is too dense to figure it out on their own, they're going to be too dense to figure out how to use the information they paid for.
At the end of the day, the "cultural" problems are important, but the biggest killer is that this team has repeatedly made poor decisions on talent. Looking across this team, what I see is a serious lack of NBA talent. We've got one star, Granger, and one guy, Dunleavy, who's an above average but not star player who must be accounted for by opposing defenses. And of course, he's going to be returning for a career threatening injury (or not), so we don't know what he'll really bring. We've guys are are legitimate NBA starters, Murphy and Ford, but who are certainly not above the average for what NBA starters should be.
That's 4 guys, and maybe only 3, with any credibility at all. And you need five guys to start. As prospects go, I think Hibbert and Hansbrough are decent, but good teams don't rely on big contributions from prospects. I think Rush is a mediocre prospect. They're not proven players. Jeff Foster is an above average backup, but paid a lot. Sol Jones is fine, but I'm not sure he's much better than a replacement level player.
Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson, Luther Head... none one of these guys brings much of value in my eyes. If you disagree, fine, but I think if anyone of them went down today, we could find a free agent off the street who could perform at basically the same level. That's especially bad when it comes to D. Jones, a guy we've locked into for 4 years.
So this team has 3-4 good players and three prospects who might become good players but aren't now. And by the way, it's not like we project them to be all-stars. Can't win with that.
Unfortunately, I don't see any easy ways out, either. Not that there ever is from bad decisions, but the Pacers are capped out, don't have a surplus of draft picks, and don't have players and contracts that look to be in obvious demand to, well, anyone. So I don't see any obvious means of improvement through trade. To get shorter contracts (and thus flexibility), we'd have to give up talent, and we don't have much talent to give up. To get more talent, we'd have to give up shorter contracts, and we don't have much in the way of short contracts to give up.
Poor management? Check!
Poor talent? Check!
Poor finances? Check!
In short, this team has been run into the ground.