The Indiana Pacers Have a Kevin Pritchard Problem

Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard has a stellar and deserved reputation as a shrewd negotiator, the kind of guy who can take a small market team and load it up with a roster that should and does punch above its weight in the Association.

He did it in Portland, pulling together Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Miller, along with a young and rising Nicolas Batum, into a team that looked like it was going to be a perennial Western Conference contender in the late aughts and early 2010s.

The squad won 54 games in 2008-09, Pritchard’s second full year at the helm of a squad that had gone 32-50 just two years before.

The trouble was, Pritchard kept on the old regime’s coach, one Nate McMillan, who had ended up on the coaching market after wearing out his welcome in Seattle when he couldn’t push the SuperSonics deep into the playoffs, winning just one playoff series and making the postseason just twice in five years coaching.

And when McMillan couldn’t get the Blazers past the first round, losing all three of his first-round series in six games each before sliding under .500 in the 2012 lockout year and finally getting the ax, he kept his job.

Indeed, Pritchard’s inability to #FireNate in Portland was a big part of the reason why he was shown the door as an executive after the 2009-10 season.

Pritchard built a great roster, albeit one that would come to be plagued by injuries.

But he was also terrible in the draft room, infamously choosing Greg Oden over Kevin Durant in 2007 and picking Victor Claver (who?) in the first round in 2009.

Claver, a draft-and-stash, played 80 games across three seasons in Portland between 2012-13 and 2014-15, scoring 3.2 points and grabbing 2.2 rebounds a game in 13.4 minutes. That’s 8.7 and 6.0 per 36. Yikes.

Also of interest from Pritch’s tenure in Portland? Getting Rudy Fernandez and James Jones from the Suns in 2007…for cash considerations. Sadly, they didn’t throw in a second-round draft pick for free, but the more things change…

The point is we know what we’re getting from Kevin Pritchard, and with each passing year of injury-plagued stars and incompetent coaching, it’s time to start wondering whether, if Pritchard does not fire McMillan following the inevitable first-round series loss to Toronto, Boston, or Miami come April, KP himself should be shown the door.

After all, Indiana has a ready-made replacement in Kelly Krauskopf, who would become the first woman to lead an NBA front office in the history of the men’s professional game and stand as testament to the power of the WNBA to open doors for women in sports. It’d be as good a story as it has the potential to be a front office hire.

What’s more, Pritchard’s made some strange on-the-record comments that suggest that his grasp of the modern NBA isn’t much better than that of his coach.

When he drafted Goga Bitadze despite no clear fit for him behind Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who themselves stand testament to the idea that twin towers haven’t worked in the NBA since David Robinson was still playing, he spoke of the need for big men in the modern game, which the Warriors and Rockets have just spent the past five years demonstrating is patently untrue.

Every contender in the league with a real chance at the title plays either four-out or a flowing five-out style, and the best teams in each conference right now, the Lakers and Bucks, are plenty capable of hybridizing the style with an athletic big man (Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo respectively) opening up the offense on the perimeter for shooters to make 3-point shots.

What’s even crazier about this is that the Lakers are third in the league in eFG% (thanks to Davis and LeBron James making shots close to the basket, the main reason they’re only 23rd in 3PAR but still sit at a respectable .353 in that stat) with Frank Vogel, a guy who got run out of Indiana for his case of Scott-Hollins Syndrome, coaching them.

That Vogel, with the proper team on the floor, inevitably looks like a great coach (see the 2013 and ’14 Eastern Conference Finals teams in Indiana, which were undone not by Vogel but by Larry Bird meddling with the chemistry), is only further indictment of the Pacers’ front office.

McMillan, meanwhile, like his longtime coach George Karl from his playing days, is one of those guys who, when on the sideline, is just good enough to convince fans that good regular seasons mean a good franchise, never mind the collapses in the playoffs.

Kevin Pritchard is that kind of executive and has been since he’s been the full-time top dog running the franchise after Bird finally mercifully got forced out of the front office (even though he continues to do some sort of consulting work.)

And if he won’t #FireNate and do what it takes to bring the franchise to the next level by hiring a capable coach who can run a modern offense, it’s time to send him packing (and to the next franchise to hire him, enjoy being built into something good, let’s at least give him that much) and find a front office that is committed to and capable of the concept of truly modern winning NBA basketball.