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ChicagoJ
10-20-2004, 10:31 AM
Bigger, better East will be tough to win

October 20, 2004

This is not your father's Eastern Conference anymore. The NBA champions, the Detroit Pistons, come from the East. Now Shaquille O'Neal, the most dominant player in basketball when he weighs less than a bread truck, is in the East.

Even the perennial soft touches have become competitive. Cleveland with LeBron James. Boston with Doc Rivers. Philadelphia with a healthy Allen Iverson and a coach he respects, Jim O'Brien. Even the Atlanta Hawks show signs they might awaken from their decade-long stupor. Seriously.

The point being, the Indiana Pacers, who opened their home exhibition season Tuesday night at Conseco Fieldhouse against Minnesota, have to be better than they were last season if they want to reach the conference finals again.

And to reach the NBA Finals?

Not with this group as it's presently constituted. Not without picking up another useful big man some time during the season. Not if they're going to beat Detroit, which added Antonio McDyess, re-signed Rasheed Wallace and has Darko Milicic one year closer to getting off the bench. Not if they want to hope to compete with Shaq, who has stepped on Indiana's dreams before.

Without question, most of the pieces are in place. Without question, this is a 55- to 60-win team. If their top players remain reasonably healthy, there's no reason to think the Pacers won't be fighting the Pistons and Heat for a chance to play in the Finals.

But in my mind, team president Larry Bird and chief executive Donnie Walsh only got half the job done this offseason.

They made a fabulous move, picking up Stephen Jackson to give them scoring at the shooting guard position and a ready heir apparent for when Reggie Miller retires.

The other part of the job, though, needs finishing.

They still need to get another big man to help Jermaine O'Neal, who had Wallaces hanging on him last spring like he was some kind of teen idol.

Again, this isn't the old Eastern Conference, where Brad Miller can be an All-Star center.

Now 'Sheed will be in Detroit the entire year. Shaq makes the Heat as big a threat as Detroit or Indiana to come out of the East.

The Pacers' big-man options? There aren't many. Not on the current roster, anyway. (Come back, Primoz. All is forgiven.)

Scot Pollard, who was picked up in a fruitless effort to salvage something from the Brad Miller deal, has been a non-factor.

That leaves David Harrison, who stayed in Indy this summer and worked hard on his conditioning. But he's a rookie. And rookies, especially those picked at the back end of the first round, don't make much of an immediate impact.

It's the only blemish on a team that is otherwise easy on the eyes.

The Pacers need O'Neal to have another MVP-quality season. They need Ron Artest to continue to refine his game on and off the court. They need Jamaal Tinsley, who got hungry after losing his starting job last season to Kenny Anderson, to stay hungry.

The only real mystery continues to be practice legend Jonathan Bender, who is heading into the fifth and final year of his contract and is -- yes, once again -- sidelined with an injury. He expects to return Monday.

The Pacers have been waiting for him since he was drafted fifth overall in 1999, and it just hasn't happened. Some of it has been on Bender, but most of it, in fairness, has been the result of injuries.

"I've learned so much about MRI's, CAT scans and parts of the body," Bender said. "I ought to be a doctor by now."

Asked Tuesday if he's ever felt like he's turned a corner in this league, he shook his head.

"Never, not once," he said disgustedly. "Just a couple of highlights."

This is his best and last chance. Al Harrington is gone, but his minutes are not. The opportunity is there. It's make-or-break time.

The Pacers can still go a long way without Bender ever developing; they had plenty of success last year without him having any sustained impact. But if he suddenly comes of age -- which means staying healthy for more than 10 minutes -- he will give Bird and Walsh a lot more options come the trading deadline.

This year, it must be Indiana's turn to make the season-changing Rasheed-type deal.

Because in today's Eastern Conference, size does matter.

Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star. Call him at (317) 444-6643 or e-mail bob.kravitz@indystar.com

sixthman
10-20-2004, 10:41 AM
This can't be true can it? Bender in the final year of his contract? I thought he signed a 4-year deal back when he, Jeff and Ronnie were locked into long-term deals.


The only real mystery continues to be practice legend Jonathan Bender, who is heading into the fifth and final year of his contract and is -- yes, once again -- sidelined with an injury. He expects to return Monday.

Ragnar
10-20-2004, 10:47 AM
Bender is signed through the 06/07 season.

Hicks
10-20-2004, 10:52 AM
I thought this article tried to make good points, but 3 or more times I was reading his innaccuraces and rolling my eyes too much to notice them. I thought it was a crappy article (per the norm)

Unclebuck
10-20-2004, 10:57 AM
I can't disagre with his major point thogh and if a team wants to give the Pacers a Sheed Wallace caliber player for basically nothing, then yes the Pacers should do that. It is easy to say the Pacers need more size, that they need better big man, yes every team in the league would say the same thing, but it is naive to think the Pacers will be able to steal a player like the Pistons did.

ChicagoJ
10-20-2004, 11:39 AM
But in spite of his bumbling, it *is* reasonable to say, barring the generosity of another team giving us a player similar to how Atlanta and Boston teamed up to give 'Sheed to Detroit, that our odds to make The Finals or win it all this season are much lower than last season.

McKeyFan
10-20-2004, 12:46 PM
Well, inaccuracies aside, I thought it was an excellent article in its general tone.

- The Jackson deal was a good one.

- The East does provide a bigger challenge at center now.

- The Pacers one weakness is size down low. JO needs defensive help.

- Bender either sucks or is injured.


I thought it was interesting that his main point on Bender was not helping the team, but that if he plays well, his trade value might get us a center.

Conversely to the praise of this article, I can also understand the criticism. But some of you need to realize that most readers aren't as informed as this forum, and these accurate zingers he wrote are the first time anybody's heard of it who doesn't visit this forum.

Also, I don't think its naieve for him to call for a good center trade. I just think that's his job as a journalist--to point out weaknesses. If you want nice, nice evaluations of the trade histories, reread all of Monteith.

Kravitz may not be as good as several posters here on the PD. But for the Star, he is refreshing, IMO.

Unclebuck
10-20-2004, 12:46 PM
But in spite of his bumbling, it *is* reasonable to say, barring the generosity of another team giving us a player similar to how Atlanta and Boston teamed up to give 'Sheed to Detroit, that our odds to make The Finals or win it all this season are much lower than last season.

Although last year right now no one was thinking championship for the Pacers. right now there are those who think the Pacers have a shot.

The playoff seedings make it much tougher, having to beat the Pistons and then the Heat. If they would seed like they should, the team wit the best EC record would only have to bet one of those two teams

ChicagoJ
10-20-2004, 12:56 PM
But in spite of his bumbling, it *is* reasonable to say, barring the generosity of another team giving us a player similar to how Atlanta and Boston teamed up to give 'Sheed to Detroit, that our odds to make The Finals or win it all this season are much lower than last season.

Although last year right now no one was thinking championship for the Pacers. right now there are those who think the Pacers have a shot.



True - I thought about prefacing that comment with the notion that the championship expectations were formed between late December and the trade deadline.

Doug
10-20-2004, 01:07 PM
Again, this isn't the old Eastern Conference, where Brad Miller can be an All-Star center.


Wasn't Brad an All-Star center in the west last year? :tongue:

McKeyFan
10-20-2004, 01:32 PM
While I do think Kravitz' point is true, I think it is also possible that we can win it all without a big center.

We won't be perfect, but we will be much, much better this year, IMO. I think we very successfully addressed our biggest problem--a healthy shooting guard who can defend and create. (And can shoot. It's always nice to have a shooting guard who can shoot :rolleyes: )

Remember, we almost beat Detroit last year even with an injured JO and Tinsley. We addressed our biggest problem. We didn't fix EVERY problem, but, then again, having Foster in the game brings several little plusses that a bit center wouldn't bring to the table. (I think there is credibility to the theory that Foster was benched against Detroit, not because he couldn't shoot, but because the "shooting" guard couldn't shoot.)

Miami? Sure, Shaq could be big problem. But I see a least a 50 percent chance they won't get all their pieces together in one year.

So, I say a 50 percent chance or better of a Championship ring THIS YEAR!

blanket
10-20-2004, 02:30 PM
That's the thing about Kravitz. He's like a little kid, running back home with the brand new kitty he just found outside school. And just when you think he's on to something, he gets back and he's smashed the kitty into a horrible bloody mess inside his book bag."

Yuck.

I wasn't familiar with that analogy before now. Certainly is... colorful.

:sad:

Bball
10-20-2004, 02:43 PM
After reading this thread I am left to believe either:

Kravitz is right even when he is wrong...

Kravitz is wrong even when he is right...

Or Don't put a cat in your book bag...

:o

:P

-Bball

fwpacerfan
10-20-2004, 04:04 PM
This article is a change of pace for Kravitz. It's not like him to come out and say that an Indy team sucks, has no chance for a championship and it's management screwed up.:rolleyes:

Kravitz has proven time and again he's imcompetent and only rehashes the obvious. Yes the Pacers (and most other teams in the league) need a big man. Yes Bender's hurt and needs to prove himself. Where's the solution? Good writers will sometimes give a suggestion as to what could happen - he never does - he simply bashes.

The only thing that would have been more surprising than a positive Kravitz article would be for Jay to disagree with the notion that the Pacers aren't going to win anything or for Peck to not bring up Brad Miller in every post.