Pacers pursue positive path to success

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Vogel uses a positive approach to bring out a passion in his pros to play basketball like a game instead of a job.

Often times, NBA teams that win regularly and show up with a consistent effort on the road and at home, efficiently taking advantage of their strengths to minimize their weaknesses, are assumed to take a business-like approach to the task at hand -- winning basketball games.

The San Antonio Spurs often earn the "business-like" label thanks to the ridiculous amount of success they had over the years along with the staid, no-nonsense leadership from coach Gregg Poppovich and Hall of Famer, Tim Duncan.

But there's a reason basketball courts are on the playground and not in an office building. Basketball is a game, after all.

Yes, that game is a job for players in the NBA, but Pacers coach Frank Vogel would prefer his team play with the passion for the game they developed as kids on the playground. Prior to the Pacers securing their 12th win on Saturday night, Vogel shared the approach he pushes on his players each night out in the Association.

"I don't want to be just a business-like approach team, come in take care of our business and move on to the next game," Vogel said. "I want to play with passion and fury, regardless."

Just another classic bit of Vogel inspiration that might be considered hokey if his team didn't respond so favorably to it ever since he took over the top job from Jim O'Brien for the final 38 games of the regular season in 2011. JOB's negative reinforcement helped change the work ethic around the Fieldhouse but eventually wore out the young players.

When Vogel took over, that changed in a hurry as the new coach immediately started talking about making the playoffs, despite muffled guffaws in the press room. Eyes rolled when he talked about changing to a "Smashmouth" style of play. For Vogel, the sky has always been the limit and if it takes a Rocky movie clip to get that message across, so be it.

But that positive approach to expect to win each game and compete at an elite level has set the course for the Pacers transformation into an actual elite NBA team. And according to a fantastic story from Phil Richards about the Pacers turn around, all of that positive chatter from Vogel, as natural as it appeared and has appeared since day one, was actually a direct order from team president, Larry Bird.

"I told him to bring all the coaches to dinner that night. So we got everybody together and I got up and all I said was: 'Frank is in charge.'

"(I said,) 'He's going to run the team but I want to tell all you guys right now, if I hear you say anything negative, other than coaching negativity about a bad pass or a bad screen, I'm going to fire you on the spot. I don't want any of that here. We're going to look at the future. We're going to be positive about the future.' "

Bird paused. He smirked.

"I'd say Frank went a little overboard," he said. "He's been here what, three years, four years? I've still never heard him say anything negative. It worked. He's done an excellent job."

At this point, hearing Vogel say something negative about any player or anything happening to his team would seem forced and fake. No doubt, Bird found the right man to coach his team, whether he realized it at the time or not.

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