Frank Vogel entering final year under contract

Frank Vogel is upbeat about the upcoming 2014-15 NBA season — even with two-time All-Star Paul George expected to miss the entire season due to the gruesome leg injury he suffered on Aug. 1, and the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency.

But did you expect anything different from the Pacers head coach, who has directed the team for three and a half seasons?

During that time, he’s 167-100 in the regular season and helped the team to postseason play all four years, including to the Eastern Conference Finals in the past two seasons.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel and team president Larry Bird during an August press conference.

Without two starters – arguably their two most important pieces – this new season will without a doubt be Vogel’s toughest yet. And, as if he needed more pressure, he’s entering the final year under contract.

Keep in mind, there’s many new components as well as new roles for players already on roster. For those reasons, and more, I’m calling the season “The Year of Discovery.”

I asked Vogel if he would he like to have a new contract before the season, which most certainly would help ease the burden.

“I want to coach here forever,” Vogel said last month. “So I don’t think it eases any burden or anything like that, or changes the job at all. I certainly want to be back as the coach here for years to come.”

Pacers President Larry Bird, with team owner a Herb Simon signing off on it, is the one that will decide Vogel’s future. It was Bird that fired O’Brien mid-year in 2010-11, the final year of J.O.B.’s deal.

“Frank’s sitting right here. OK. I didn’t know if you noticed,” Bird stated the obvious in a joking manner at a press conference last month.

“That’s something that you sit down with your owner (and) you talk about. I never was worried about anybody going into their last year. Last year during the playoffs, they were coming out saying he was coaching for his job. I didn’t buy that. But we’ll see what happens here in the next few weeks.”

As of mid-August, Bird said he and Simon had not discussed it.

Bird may work to get something done before camp commences on Tuesday, Sept. 30. However, with so much in flux, he may choose to let the season play out.

One thing I know: the players adore Vogel. He was a “player’s coach” while an assistant with the team. As head coach, he is widely respected around the league and is appreciated by his players — and staff.

Vogel took over for his friend and mentor, Jim O’Brien, in Chicago after J.O.B. was ejected. I will never forget the image of a John Gray, the team’s director of security, escorting J.O.B. off of the floor … for good. He then retired, and declines interview requests even when solely about Vogel.

Vogel officially took over on an interim basis after that game in January 2011. That summer, team execs removed his interim tag — rightly so.

For those that may want or call for a bigger name moving forward, consider who would be interested and accept the salary the Pacers are willing to pay. Rookie head coach Derek Fisher joined the New York Knicks on a five-year deal worth $25 million. Nowhere close to that.

New contract or not, Vogel and his staff will work their butt off to make the most of the players available this upcoming year.

“We have a winning culture here and an approach that comes to bringing it every single night, be the hardest playing team in the NBA,” said Vogel. “And I think we’re going to surprise some teams. I think those fans that think the season is over before it started are very wrong. And I think they are going to be pleasantly surprised with the grit and toughness that we play with this year.

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