It appears the pressure and grind of the NBA playoffs hasn't taken away everyone's sense of humor ... yet.
On Wednesday, ESPN.com reported that Pacers coach Frank Vogel was "coaching for his job" after Indiana's regular-season nose dive and Game 1 loss to the eighth-seeded Hawks in the first round.
Marc Stein's report prompted a response from the Pacers on Thursday. General manager Kevin Pritchard took to Twitter to alleviate concerns that Vogel might be on his way out:
Larry Bird just told me his sources say Frank Vogel's job is safe. @Pacers
— Kevin Pritchard (@PacersKev) April 24, 2014
As Stein reported, Vogel's future is in the hands of Pacers president Larry Bird, who made Vogel the coach in 2011. With the team having made moves to fortify its roster with a Finals run in mind, the stakes have been raised for Vogel's Pacers to perform. Via Stein:
Expectations were raised not only externally but also internally after in-season moves Bird made to acquire Evan Turner from Philadelphia and add Andrew Bynum for bench depth on top of last summer's additions of Luis Scola and C.J. Watson. All of Bird's moves, sources said, were made with the intent to get the team at least one step further and back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2000, when Bird was the coach.
The tweet from Pritchard not only serves as a vote of confidence for Vogel but also as a sign that the relationship between the coach and front office is still strong enough that the GM can make a joke. If Vogel's future with Indiana was truly in doubt, it's unlikely that a high-ranking team official would make light of the situation on social media.
Vogel's job status hasn't been the only off-the-court distraction for the Pacers. As The Point Forward noted earlier, Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner had to be separated following a “fistfight” at practice last Friday. The Indianapolis Star reported that a source close to the situation confirmed that the incident was “pretty accurate” as first reported.
Stephenson, Turner, and others offered their version of events on Wednesday, one day after Indiana evened its series with Atlanta.
“[Turner is] a good guy, I have no problem with him,” Stephenson told reporters. “We’re competitive players, we got into a little scuffle, but it was just practice-related. No blows. Just playing hard, getting really for the playoffs. … There’s no hard feelings with us. We’re good as a unit and we’re good in the locker room.”
Turner also denied that punches were thrown.
“Nothing really happened,” Turner said, in comments recorded by KentSterling.com. “Just got tangled up in practice. That was really it. There was no fists thrown or anything. Lance and I are both 6-foot-6, 230 [pounds]. I think there would be some type of mark if there were punches thrown. Nothing really happened. … I think some people in certain senses try to make something out of nothing. … I don’t want people running around thinking I did something crazy, or Lance did something crazy, because it wasn’t along those lines.”
SI.com's Ben Golliver contributed to this report.