Bird, Vogel merit strong consideration for awards

April 12, 2012-- Larry Bird delivered.

For that, he should be recognized.

So, too, should Frank Vogel, but first things first.

For three years, Bird sent a consistent message: give him time to clean up the salary cap and a little patience with player moves and by the 2011-12 season, he'll give you a winner.

The irony is, the most deserving candidate for the NBA's Executive of the Year award is probably the guy that cares the least about the recognition. For Bird, the reward is in a job well done.

This is the first season Bird can look at the roster with full ownership, because this team unquestionably is his design, and the master strokes came this season.

From the draft, he landed George Hill.

From free agency, he signed David West.

In a preseason trade, he picked up Lou Amundson.

At the trade deadline, along came Leandro Barbosa.

Talk about turning a profit in the personnel market. Those four players -- all critical to the team's success -- came to the Pacers at the cost of Kawhi Leonard, Brandon Rush, a second-round pick and cash.

"Most of the talk about the Pacers this year has been about how amazing a job Larry Bird has done to turn this franchise around in rebuilding the roster from where it was a couple of years ago," Vogel said. "I think he's got to be the front-runner to win Executive of the Year."

The only real competition is the Clippers' Neil Olshey, who landed Chris Paul and thus reversed his franchise's fortunes. But that was one stroke of fate that required league intervention, not the execution of a master plan.

Taking a 37-win team that eked into the playoffs last year and converting it to one that likely will wind up with the third seed in the Eastern Conference is a remarkable achievement that has gone largely unnoticed by the national media.

One of Bird's boldest moves was retaining Vogel as the head coach. Entering this all-important season, it would've been tempting to reach out to a proven veteran coach. Instead, Bird went with his gut and stuck with Vogel, whose positive energy, drive -- and remarkable coaching staff of Brian Shaw, Jim Boylen and Dan Burke -- has fueled the team's surge.

Vogel probably won't win Coach of the Year; the award has been ceded to Chicago's Tom Thibodeaux, but he should finish second in the voting.

"I knew we had a talented team here, I knew we had a chance to do some special things," Vogel said. "We haven't done anything yet. If I'm in that conversation, then Larry Bird's done a great job, David Morway's done a great job and the players have done a great job. It's a team effort.

"Much like Roy Hibbert making the All-Star team being indicative of our team success, any conversation about me for Coach of the Year is to be shared with our whole team."

The beauty of the situation is that is not as if this season, as good as it has been, represents some kind of pinnacle. The Pacers are built for the long haul, with a strong nucleus and plenty of cap space moving forward.

As good as the present looks, the future is even brighter, thanks largely to the efforts of Bird and Vogel.

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