Consider this the third installment of our "which ...?" poll-question series leading up to the opening of training camp. Part one dealt with the Pacers' newcomers; part two dealt with the mainstay starting lineup, and part three involves three franchise staples.
Coach Frank Vogel begins his second full season at the helm of the Blue and Gold. Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard make up a patchwork front office after the expected, yet sudden resignation of Larry Bird. And then there are the fans, who've rightly been slow to lend their trust back to the franchise after years of brawl-ringing, malcontents, and mediocrity.
The question: Which franchise staple will most benefit the 2012-2013 version of the Pacers?
Coach Vogel - One of my favorite Vogel moments occurred just before Indy's playoff series against the Heat. Previous to game one, Vogel made his "Heat flop" edict and one particular national sports radio show was crucifying him for daring to make such inflammatory "added incentive" comments. The brunt of the radio show's commentary went something like this: "who's this Vogel guy? Who does he think he is? Be careful what you wish for, young man. Be careful about unleashing the beast." I happened to have the immense pleasure of listening to the very same radio show after Indy's 94-75 thrashing of the Heat in game three. My oh my had the commentary changed. The arrogant snickering and mockery levied at Vogel's expense barely a week earlier had changed dramatically into heaping praise.
Simply put, Vogel made a believer out of that radio duo. It wasn't the first time he's done such a thing and it won't be the last. Vogel's most impressive trait is his ability to instill a heavy dose of confidence in non-believers. The problem is that such a strategy can be dangerously flammable as in watching certain players on the court trying to do certain things that their skill level just cannot provide. No worries here about Vogel's ability to maintain a confident spirit, the next step is limiting just how much that confidence can affect simple basketball IQ. With another year of seasoning under his belt, I like his chances. Benefit Rating:
The Front Office - Donnie Walsh has to be considered the most valuable stopgap team president in the history of the game. Fresh off retooling a horrendous Knicks franchise under the guidance of the league's most tortuously inept owner, Walsh returns to Indy. It's a pretty darn juicy storyline, yet it doesn't quite excite the same way as Pritchard's rise to GM. Larry Bird built a fine team in Indy, although it was--at times--at a maddeningly methodical pace. Pritchard's reputation is the anti-Bird, a wheeler-and-dealer who's always ready to pounce on the next make-it-or-break-it move. It's that type of thinking that could potentially ascend the Blue-and-Gold franchise to the league's upper echelon, or possibly lead it on a path towards rebuild with an eye on trading in above-average, second-round-of-the-playoffs talent for a potential superstar(s). Any move directed at blasting off into upper-echelon mode probably starts with #33. Would he dare? Benefit Rating:
The Fans - The last time the Pacers were in the Eastern Conference Finals (2003-2004), they boasted a .83 winning percentage (34-7). The time before that (finals' season 1999-2000), they boasted an .878 winning percentage (36-5). Last season: .696 (23-10). The easily deduced moral of the story is that years of supreme winning often coincide with a distinct homecourt advantage. Both sides have spoken: there's the side pleading for the fans to step up and start occupying Bankers Life Fieldhouse again. The other rightfully pleads patience, waiting for the Pacers to continue to give them reason to return. The playoff run and the fact the Pacers' return all five starters from one of the league's top-10 teams should be a good start in appeasing both sides. History says the Pacers will need a decided homecourt advantage to advance. The basketball gods say, "If Larry builds it, they will come." Benefit Rating:
What say ye?