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Will Galen
10-03-2004, 06:40 AM
Pacers think big as they hit camp

By Mark Montieth
mark.montieth@indystar.com
October 3, 2004


The 61 victories and the trip to the Eastern Conference finals gave them credibility.

A major offseason trade might have improved their roster.

A summer of work and rest has improved their bodies.

But the most valuable asset the Indiana Pacers can take into the start of training camp Tuesday is a good collective memory. Their six-game playoff loss to Detroit brought an unhappy ending to the most successful regular season in franchise history, but it had its potential benefits. It was instructive and humbling, and could be the prelude to a longer postseason run if they apply the lessons learned.

Although Detroit was healthier than the Pacers, it also sustained its teamwork and intensity longer. It had gained from losing in the conference finals the previous season, providing a template for the Pacers to follow.

"The major emphasis for us is to continue to stress . . . growth as a team," said Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, who had coached the Pistons in the conference finals two seasons ago. "It was pretty clear the best 'team' won the championship. Detroit was the most together, the most unselfish. You see it time and time again in sport. You have to have that element completely intact to compete at the highest level."

That usually comes from experience, something the Pacers now have in greater quantity and quality. Of the 10 players with more than 50 minutes in the Detroit series, only three -- Reggie Miller, Austin Croshere and Anthony Johnson -- had played significant minutes on teams that had advanced past the first round. So by the time the Pacers had swept Boston and disposed of Miami in six games, most of them were running on fumes while learning the hard lessons of playoff basketball.

Pacers president Larry Bird knows them, having played on three title teams with Boston. He could only warn players about how the pressure and intensity escalate each round. They had to experience it for themselves.

"I told them, 'What did you think, they give away these championships?' " Bird said.

"You have to be focused. You have to be together as a team. It's tough."

Faulty finish

The Pacers were hardly dysfunctional last season while winning three more games than any team in the franchise's NBA history. Their chemistry was good. But they discovered it needs to be great in the playoffs.

They shot just 35 percent against the Pistons, and only one player, Fred Jones, had a better shooting percentage in that series than he had in the regular season.

While everyone had their difficult moments, Ron Artest seemed to embody the team's playoff demise. His scoring average, 18.3 points in the regular season, dropped to 14.5 in the conference finals. His shooting percentage dropped from .421 to .298. He also missed a few practices and a team flight because of what he called a migraine headache.

He expects to be better prepared physically and mentally next time.

"You have to be a close-knit team," Artest said. "You just have to go into the games wanting to win. You can't have any other agendas. You have to be able to step your game up. That was the biggest thing I learned in the playoffs."

He said he also learned not to fight the system as often.

"Last year I didn't give coach Carlisle a chance," he said. "I was down on the offense, but we won 61 games. I wanted to play more, but we still won 61. That brought me back to reality and made me think about things. We really do have a good team and I should keep my mouth shut a little bit."

The encouraging news for the Pacers is that aside from Miller, time is on their side. The starters on the first team Bird coached, which won a then-club record 58 games and reached the conference finals in 1998, had an average age of 31.8. Dale Davis, at 29, was the youngest. The starters on last season's team averaged 28 years, a median distorted by Miller, who was 38. The other starters were 27 or younger.

The discouraging news is that Detroit's starters all return and are even younger, with an average age of 27.6. The Pistons also made some offseason moves that could bring further improvement, such as signing Antonio McDyess and 2003 first-round draft pick Carlos Delfino, who played in Italy last season.

Improvement won't be a luxury for the Pacers, it will be a necessity. And it will have to come in several small ways.

So far so good

Stephen Jackson, acquired in a trade for Al Harrington, should strengthen the backcourt. He enters camp as a backup but probably will play more minutes than the starter, Miller.

Harrington's absence should open more playing time for Jonathan Bender and Austin Croshere, both of whom have received rave reviews for their summer work. Bender, according to the coaches who watched him work with trainer Macki Shillstone in New Orleans, has gained 15-20 pounds and has a stronger lower body. Croshere, who returned to Indianapolis early in September, also is stronger.

"He's looking great," Artest said. "He's going to have a nice year."

Jermaine O'Neal, meanwhile, ended his offseason in Los Angeles under the guidance of a strength coach and has been phoning in similar reports of improvement in his body.

Jamaal Tinsley, who worked out in Atlanta, reportedly has kept his weight down and continued to improve his shot. He also has been dramatically more communicative than last summer, when he rarely returned calls to the team.

All in all, it appears nobody will bring a negative vibe to camp. That's soothing for Bird and Carlisle, who say they are comfortable coming back with a team closely resembling the one that lost to Detroit.

"I like our roster, I really do," Bird said. "We just have to come together as team."

CEO Donnie Walsh built the teams that reached the conference finals five times between 1994 and 2000, and then rebuilt the team that did so last season before handing over personnel matters to Bird. He has seen growing pains before, and from teams older than last season's group.

He expects to see fewer of them this season.

"In most cases, you find the teams that end up winning championships have had to go through a process to understand how more intense it gets at each level," Walsh said. "You just keep going up levels of intensity. For a young team like we had, if you haven't gone through it, you don't understand what it's really like. You think if you play good you win, but it's not that simple.

"Detroit knew what they were into and our guys didn't know. Now they know."

Now it's a matter of what they can do about it.

MZahm
10-03-2004, 06:57 AM
Nice article. the most surprising bit:


"Last year I didn't give coach Carlisle a chance," he said. "I was down on the offense, but we won 61 games. I wanted to play more, but we still won 61. That brought me back to reality and made me think about things. We really do have a good team and I should keep my mouth shut a little bit."


Who is this guy and what has he done with Ron Artest? Nice to see some maturation though. I don't expect him to be a saint, but if he keeps showing gradual improvement temperament wise, I'm going to have to join the "Trade Artest over my dead body." camp.

Anthem
10-03-2004, 12:24 PM
That's all I'm asking for from Artest. Not an immediate change into a recipient of the NBA Nice Guy award, but a continual move in the right direction.

He's a smart guy. He's going to figure it out.

Ultimate Frisbee
10-03-2004, 07:05 PM
That's all I'm asking for from Artest. Not an immediate change into a recipient of the NBA Nice Guy award, but a continual move in the right direction.

He's a smart guy. He's going to figure it out.

Yeah, I totally agree... Artest will never be an overly warm and kind individual... his game thrives due to frustration and anger... as long as he continues to learn to harness his passion, he will become a better basketball player and team player.

ChicagoJ
10-04-2004, 05:15 PM
He's said 'the right thing' many times before. Does anyone dispute that he can be 'charming', if not absoluetely fascinating, when talking to the press?

He's getting closer and closer to doing the right thing consistently when everything is going 'his way.' And considering where we've been, that's progress. :shrug:

I actually hope we get off to a rocky start this season so we can decide earlier, rather than later, if he's making any progress when the pressure is on. The regular season, as we saw last year, is a worthless measuring stick.

Besides, the facts also indicate that when we went 7-8 during December last season, he got himself benched for 'conduct detrimental to winning' (Rick's words, not mine), so its not like he responded well to that pressure, either.

I certainly agree that he's a smart guy, on the marketing side. He's taken a bunch of "Pacers" fans and turned them into Ron Artest fans - to the point where they actually believe the TEAM's fortunes are all wrapped up in one 'irreplaceable' player. :shakehead:

Unclebuck
10-04-2004, 08:33 PM
Like I always say I never pay any attention to what Artest says, good or bad.

Anthem
10-04-2004, 11:22 PM
Jay, I wrote a post disagreeing with every point you made. I decided not to post it, because I respect you a lot and I'm not (yet) ready to get in a pissing contest. But intentionally or not, your post looks like troll bait. Your last paragraph, especially, was just plain offensive.

Instead, here's a quote from a great book: The Skeptical Environmentalist. If you think any of the points in your previous post are worth discussing, let me know and I'll be glad to oblige.


Mankind's lot has actually improved in terms of practically every measurable indicator.

But note carefully what I am saying here that by far the majority of the indicators show that mankind's lot has vastly improved. This does not, however, mean that everything is good enough. The first statement refers to what the world looks like whereas the second refers to what it ought to look like.

While on lecture tours I have discussed how vital it is to emphasize this distinction. Many people believe they can prove me wrong , for example by pointing out that a lot of people are still starving: "How can you say that things are continuing to improve when 18 percent of all people in the developing world are still starving?

The point is that ever fewer people in the world are starving. In 1970, 35 percent of all people in developing countries were starving. In 1996 the figure was 18 percent and the UN expects that the figure will have fallen to 12 percent by 2010. This is remarkable progress; 237 fewer people starving. Till today, more than 2000 million more people are geting enough to eat.

The food situation has vastly improved, but in 2010 there will still be 680 million people starving, which is obviously not good enough. This distinction is essential; when things are not going well enough we can sketch out a vision: fewer people must starve. This is our political aim.

But when things are improving we know we are on the right track. Although perhaps not at the right speed. Maybe we can do even more to improve the situation, but the basic approach is not wrong.

ChicagoJ
10-05-2004, 01:39 PM
I guess I was a bit crabby yesterday. :blush:

Anyway, summer is over. You've probably seen this but here's the link: http://www.pacersdigest.com/cgi-bin/bbBoard.cgi?a=viewthread;fid=1;gtid=96297

Although your post probably set me off, I was trying (albeit poorly), to express my frustration with certain posters - not you, not UB - that seem to be more interested in "whether Ron is still on the Pacers?" and not "what's best for the Pacers?"

He's here, training camp is starting, as long as he doesn't do anything new to undermine the team's progress then I don't have much more to say on the topic.

Anthem
10-05-2004, 10:39 PM
I got ya man.

I didn't think that sounded like a typical post from you.