The Pacers' burning questions

Like others, he has been frustrated with Stephenson. During a blowout home loss late in the regular season, he and Stephenson got into a verbal altercation on the bench. But his role reduction to allow Stephenson to grow was an organizational decision that also has had some positive benefits, even if it has the side effect of upsetting Hill.

There's little doubt that Hill has not performed at the highest level, but there have been nights when he has been off defensively. However, his length and defensive skill set are a big part of why the Pacers have been an elite defensive team in the past several seasons.

Q: Former assistant coach Brian Shaw's name still comes up around the team as someone the players respect. Do they miss the assistant who is now the head coach of the Nuggets?

A: One person put it this way: "B. Shaw was always straightforward. If there were any problems, he'd speak up, whether it was yelling, cussing us out or just being there for us, and then we'd move on. This is no knock on Nate (McMillan) because this was his first season with us and the last thing he was going to do was ruffle any feathers."

Players gravitated to Shaw because of his knowledge of playing and coaching on championship teams. George and Stephenson, the team's two most talented players, were Shaw's pupils. He was one of the few who could keep Stephenson in line, and Shaw often went fishing with George, when they would spend hours together just talking about basketball and life.

The team has missed having that sounding board this season, especially when things got rough. Pacers coach Frank Vogel has developed a persona where he is often a voice of positivity and reinforcement. Though he is not afraid to get after players, especially during film sessions, Shaw often acted as the bad cop to Vogel's good cop. Facing issues this season the Pacers had not previously encountered -- especially with George and Stephenson -- not having Shaw there to pull them into a corner and re-focus them was missed during the season.

Ironically, Shaw had issues during his first season with the Nuggets because of his personality, and veteran Andre Miller ended up being dealt, largely because of friction with Shaw.

Q: Larry Bird is widely celebrated as one of the best ever to play, coach or run a team. But is some of this turmoil on him?

A: Even though he took a year's hiatus -- during which Hibbert and Vogel were given contract extensions that he didn't have a part of -- this is a team that Bird has built. He drafted Hibbert, George and Stephenson. He traded for Hill. He made the personal sales pitch to get West to sign as a free agent. He was the NBA Executive of the Year in 2012 for excellent reasons.

When he returned to the franchise last year, though, he was concerned about the team's bench, and he aggressively tried to get his starters help so that Vogel wouldn't play them so many minutes together. His moves to get this done have not been so golden and he's continued to tinker with little concern for chemistry, something that was perhaps a fragile quality of the team he built.

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