The Indiana Pacers fired head coach Jim O'Brien Sunday after three seasons and change of mediocrity. Frank Vogel, a traveled O'Brien deputy, has been named the interim head coach for the remainder of the season as Indiana, despite losses in seven of its past eight games, sits two games behind the Bobcats for the East's No. 8 seed.
But attention has already turned toward who will run the Pacers next season, and Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star reports that former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is at the top of the list.
Brown coached the Cavs to the 2007 NBA Finals, and racked up a 272-138 record in five seasons in Cleveland. He also won the 2009 NBA Coach of the Year award. Of course, Brown had LeBron James for his entire C-Town tenure, and there is no King James on the Pacers' roster or in the 2011 NBA Draft. So a stint with Indiana would almost certainly drop Brown's winning percentage.
But as a defensive wizard that had his team near the top of the league in opponent shooting percentage consistently, with time spent working under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, Brown would be a marked improvement over the idea-heavy but less than motivational O'Brien. The Pacers started this season quite strong on defense, but fell off as O'Brien began to bench center Roy Hibbert for long stretches. The Pacers had been among the top-5 in team defense for a spell, but is now No. 8. The Indiana offense, heavy on three-pointers, is ranked No. 24.
Brown's candidacy may be dependent on whether team president Larry Bird sticks around. Bird, whose contract has a team option for 2011-12, told FanHouse's Chris Tomasson last week that he's not sure whether Herb Simon will keep the legend around, and that he's not sure he wants to be back.
"I know the owner wants to sit down and he'll do whatever. He's been very good to me. ... He's a good man, and I told him it's not just me but everybody I got on the basketball side is up (contract-wise after this season). The scouts. The coaches. (General manager David) Morway. Myself. People in my office. And, if he wants to go in a different direction, he can do that." [...]
"It's my 30th year in this league. It's been a great run. I got the best job in the world. There's 30 (top executive jobs with teams) and I got one. ... I have no idea (what will happen with the future). Everybody asks me. I'll wait until after the draft and make a decision. See what my wife (Dinah) wants to do. ... I got to ask my wife. Maybe she wants me to stay home."
It's worth noting that in both Tomasson's piece and during Sunday's press conference announcing the end of O'Brien's tenure, Bird did not sound like a man who was ready to leave the Pacers or the game. But Simon, losing millions of dollars on the time annually, could see a potential NBA lockout as reason enough to clear the decks to avoid paying salary to basketball ops executives and a coach during a season that never begins.