HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You don’t see this very often, a professional sports executive banging on the players (not the coach) for a team’s struggles.
Usually, the coach is the first one to face the firing squad when things go awry. Not in Indiana. Not on Larry Bird‘s watch.
The Pacers’ boss has been giving conventional wisdom the stiff arm since his Indiana State days. So no one should be surprised to hear what he has to say now about his team’s 3-9 slide in their past 12 games. He’s not pointing fingers at interim coach Frank Vogel.
More from my main man Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star:
“We started off pretty strong with Frank, then they hit a lull. They had some problems internally and it took the wind out of them. That has nothing to do with Frank, that’s on the players. The last 10-12 games, the guys haven’t reacted the way you do as professionals,” said Bird, who was on hand to witness the lackluster 26-point loss at Minnesota on Wednesday.
Team chemistry has been a concern all season due to the abundance of younger players and the absence of a leader.
The Pacers jumped to a 7-1 start under Vogel, capitalizing on a soft portion of the schedule.
Bird said strong starts are not uncommon when a coach is fired during the season.
Things came to a head, however, during and after last weekend’s loss at Houston.
Veterans Danny Granger and Dahntay Jones took exception to comments made to them during the game by rookie Lance Stephenson. Jones had to be restrained from going after Stephenson in the huddle during a second-half timeout.
Things carried over to the locker room after the game when a number of other players were involved in a heated argument.
Stephenson, the team’s second-round draft pick, is talented. But there are questions about the 20-year-old’s maturity on and off the court.
One of the Pacers’ problems is the absence of a player who can mentor Stephenson and help him grow.
“Our problem is internally,” Bird said. “I see what’s going on inside the locker room. I’ve seen a lot of it all year. I tried to address it with different people at the trade deadline.”
Clearly, Bird didn’t get a chance to address all of the problems.