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My friends it's been a wild ride. We've been up, we've been down, we've been twisted all the way around. But, as a franchise, we have not been defeated.
The season started off with a winning record, but if you will recall the season didn't begin without it's share of turmoil either. Jeff Foster needed suregery, Anthony Johnson & Reggie both required time off for rehab while they nuresed injury's from the pre-season. Bender (as usual) also was unable to go & even J.O. had some on again off again type injury's.
But no matter what Pacer was on the floor on any given night, for the first 9 games of the season we were the best team in the N.B.A.
With a combination of Ron Artest & Jackson our perimeter play was as good as it's ever been & probably was better than it has ever been for that matter.
Then came the fatefull night in Detroit.
Let's not rehash it here, let's just all agree that this night deeply impacted (thanks Jay) our franchise.
This could have been the point right there that our team packed it in for the season. No team, to the best of my memory, has ever lost that many members of it's core unit & survived such a blow.
But then a something special happened. On a night that the team had 6 active players, none of which were even slotted to be in the top 8 before the season started, we took a rejuvinated Orlando Magic team to the buzzer.
This is a night when a rookie who was the last pick in the first round outplayed the # 1 pick in the draft.
The night a third string point guard played every single min. of the game and most of the time played vs. a star player in this league while never backing down.
This is the night a second round draft pick from the year before, who was not even slated to be on the active roster started against an aging superstar & recorded his first career double/double.
This was a night when the slam dunk champion proved he was no Harold Minor.
But most important of all this was a night when the fans of Indiana stood together with it's franchise as though we were a band of brothers & refused to let the team die.
Victory was not ours that night, but in this case while we didn't win that battle we won the war.
The war was the N.B.A. season & both the players & the fans that night decided that we would not be victims. We may or may not be the champions of the world, but it would have been easy for everyone to give in & just say this was a lost season.
That may have been the best Indiana basketball I've ever seen. Notice what I said, I said Indiana baskteball. Not Pacers or N.B.A. but this was pure Hoosier spirit on the line that night & no not the college Hoosiers but the movie Hoosiers. It may sound corny but that one night was Magic.
We then went on to beat the next three opponets. Will anyone who was ever there ever forget the heart of Scot Pollard vs. the Timberwolves? His shadowboxing after a big play will be burned in my memory forever.
But then again, we were struck with injury's. Just as we were embarking on our west coast journey Pollard was sidelined with a soar back.
Croshere also was playing with an assortment of injury's but never once asked for quarter.
We lost a stretch of seven games & in some ways we were at our darkest hour. We had so many players coming & going during this time frame that if it wasn't so tragic it would have been comical.
Into our lexicon of players we will forever need to add the names of Trumaine Folkes, Brittan Johnson, Marcus Haislip & Michael Curry. This was our bench for several games.
Of course we had some of our regulars start coming back but because of the inconsistancy of who was available from night to night we could never get a groove going on offense.
We finally got J.O. back at Christmas then we got Jax back a little later. But in the meantime we would win some & then we would lose some.
It is a great credit to our franchise that we won some at all. There were nights that we fielded some talent that wold really not be any better than the Atlanta Hawks but we still managed to win around .500% of our games.
Jamaal Tinsely played brilliantly but then a combo of illness & injury's did him in for a time & then a bizarre injury did him in for the season.
Jermaine tried to be it all for awhile but after a time he just wore down from the pressure he was placing on himself.
Then a tragic hit by Franco Elson put him out for over 20 games to end the season.
Frankly at this point it looked all but lost. A playoff birth was looking more like wishfull thinking than a reality. Several teams were playing well at that point & frankly we didn't look at that great for a time but we were still holding our own.
Then it happened.
******WARNING Blatant Dale Davis support to follow************
The Warrior was home & from his first night on the floor he showed the way to physical play, defense, rebounding & brought back an overall swagger that our team so desperatley needed.
It is no coincidence that Reggie Miller began to play better. Yes, you can say that it might be because he had to because Jermaine was gone or it might have been because he had finally admitted he was retireing but you cannot deny that he was more open on shots off of screens than he had been in five years.
Jackson at this time also decided to pickup his play & helped lead the team to a string of victory's that helped set a course that would take us to 6th place in the East.
Now let's look at that for moment. 6th place in the east is disapointing when you look at it on the surface. I mean last season we were the # 1 team in the league & we were expected to be almost that good again.
But with everything & I mean everything that happened to this team we still are in 6th place with a real chance of getting out of the first round.
Let's look at the Nets for just a min. This season they have lost one great player to free agency & lost one star player for the year to injury. They, for the most part, have had the survices of thier best player all season though & it still took them making a trade to get a superstar player to come in & just still barley made the playoffs.
The # 2 team in the N.B.A. last season did not even make the playoffs this year & they did not lose one of thier star players & certainly had thier superstar player all season long.
They are not in the playoffs & we are # 6 in the east.
So, while this has been one hell of a year, I would not trade it for anything.
I again quote Frederich Nietzsche.
"That which does not kill us, makes us stronger".
Nothing could be truer.
Now let's look at the players.
Anthony Johnson. Most of you were ready to run him out of town on a rail early in the season. Ragnar would have led the lynch mob . However something clicked inside A.J.'s head as the season went along. Not only did he become a solid backup point guard but somehow some way he became a solid starter in the abscence of Jamaal. There were times he was putting up numbers that none of us would have ever dreamed possible.
I give A.J. a solid solid B for the season but he gets an A for the way he ended the year.
Reggie Miller. What can we say. He defered way to much & I suspect he has deferred way to much for the past 5 years. But once he said he was retireing & once Dale came home he became the Miller that we have watched for so many years during the 90's. Shot after big shot after big shot. If he was 39 he was the best 39 year old to have ever played the two guard spot. I thought Ewing was possible, I honestly thought West was out of the question. but now he has gone on & passed the legend & in turn has become one of his own. It was a Magic year for him & for those of us that got to watch him. I know a lot of you would have preffered for the entire team to be here for the season but I don't beleive that you would have gotten the Miller time that you got to end the season with.
A B+ for the season an A+ for the way he brought us back during the playoff run.
Eddie Gill. As a third string point guard not to shabby. Problem is he has been forced to be the backup p.g. for most of the season & even on rare occasions he has been the primary pg. Let's be honest, he's not going to lead a team to a title. But he can offer solid relief & he has hit some big shots for us & has provided decent defense on occasion.
Jamaal Tinsely. Injury's have plagued him all season. Unfortunately this is getting to be a theme with him. But when he played he was beyond good. I called him the best pg. in the N.B.A. at one point. I don't back off that statement. But him being gone so much has really hurt. It's hard to give him a grade because I don't want to fault him for being injured but there were times that he didn't play for flu's etc.
I'll go with a solid B but if you wanna disagree either way I'm willing to change this.
Fred Jones. At times he was breathtakingly good. Right after the suspensions kicked in I thought we had found the answer to the two guard spot. But he then had some major slumps as well. But this is still only his third year in the N.B.A. & he has some growing to do. He has developed a good 3 pt. shot, he is decent driving the lane, now I want to see him develop a solid 10-15' jumper.
Stephan Jackson. Had runs where he looked like an all-star then had times he looked like a chump. However he never shied away from taking a big shot & at the end of the day he hit a lot of them for us. He played solid if not spectacular defense all season long. He was not a peacemaker by any means on 11/19 & was one of the reasons why our season ended up the way it did, but to his credit he came back & was a solid citizen all season for us.
I give him a B-
James Jones. This guy was supposed to be the designate I.R.L. person & now has played his way into a nice mid-level or less contract. He's had a couple of stages for the season. After the fight he was magnificant. He provided defense & rebounding from the three spot & he hit some long balls for us. But then he hit the wall. Then after riding the wall for awhile he came back to be a solid contributer during the playoff push.
I give him a C+
Ron Artest. This won't be popular here & frankly I don't care. We can (& I'm sure we will) debate who was & who was not at fault in Detroit till hell freezes over. But one undeniable truth is there, Ron Artest was punished because he was Ron Artest. You can argue the merits of that (& God knows Able is heating up the keyboards right now doing so) but it was every past deed the man did that gave him the year. Even his biggest supporters (Suaveness & Uncle Buck) agreed he deserved a long suspension so even if Stern did what they wanted Ron still would have been gone no less than 40 games. He is a great player, maybe one of the best players in the N.B.A. & he may be the best Pacer ever for all I know. But there has never EVER been a player who has hurt this team more in their careers more than Ron Artest did this season. He played great for a short time but let's never forget that prior to the fight Ron quit on the team & the season was never going to be the same after that even before the fight.
I give him a F
Jermaine O'Neal. A lapse of Judgement to be sure on the 19th of Nov. But because of who he has been in his career the Arbtrator reduced his sentance & the league did not fight it. After that though Jermaine was just never the same. He tried to hard to make up for time lost & then he tried to carry the entire team on his back. There were nights he could then there were nights he could not. But in the end he began to focus to much on one side of the floor. His rebounding suffered, his defense lapsed. I want J.O. to go away this summer & just relax. Let his body heal & get his head right. Now to be honest he had to fight with Artest before the entire brawl happened & I think that weighed on him as well. Next season we will count on him & we will need him in the playoffs. But I think it's best if he just look back on the season as a learning experiance.
I give J.O. a solid B
Austin Croshere. He lost his shot. Somewhere someway after he broke his ribs he totally lost his ability to hit a three. For that he is castigated by people. But I go back to right after the brawl & there was one player who fought tooth & nail night after night after night & it was Austin Croshere. People always wonder why this guy gets the most cheers. It's simple, in Indiana we love a hustler & gutsy player & Austin is this in spades. He has gone from 11th man to 6th man to starter back to 8th man down to 10th man to starter & everywhere inbetween this season & has not once balked at doing so, never once sniped in public about his role. He is solid, he is professional & above all he was a calming influance & veteran leader to a team that desperately needed it.
I give Austin a solid A. Feel free to disagree.
Jon Bender. I will do nothing more than quote Roaming Gnome from our party after the Brawl. In our teams darkest hour in our most desperate need Bender was once again not there to help. Even his apologist are getting tired of this old story. I understand the knee & I understand why there will be excuses that will follow. But whenever I see Scot Pollard wincing in pain running up & down the court on that bad back or I see Jermaine O'neal playing on a shoulder that is not healed & still hurting I fume over thinking that Jon could not have come in & just stood at the three point line & fouled somebody. Reggie came out & told anybody who would listen to him that he wanted to be activated if for no other reason than to give somebody a 3 min. break in the game. Jon collected his paycheck & a lot of times he hasn't even been attending the games. Those of us who have read Montieth long enough know some of his code words & when he said the other day that there are players who are obviously willing to play with some pain & others who are not there was no doubt who he was talking about.
I give Jon an F
Jeff Foster. The fact that he is even trying to run on a bad hip that is still in pain just proves my F for Bender is right. Look, I make no lie on this. I can't stand Foster & O'Neal together. But Foster & Davis was great. Foster & Croshere is great. He is one of the best backup centers in the N.B.A. He is getting better about being physical & I think that his hip will make him relie less on athleticism & more on knowledge & strength. He helps.
I give Jeff a B+
Scot Pollard. I see him & I want Bender to burn in hell. Ok, maybe that's a little strong but not by much. He will Never EVER live up to the trade. It was a God awfull horrible trade. But it's not his fault. He gave us everything he had & that is all you can ever ask from any person.
I give Scot a solid A
Dale Davis. I'll be hones, I had no idea what to expect from him. I haven't seen him play in years & to I figured if he was getting DNP-Cd's in Golden State then he probably is done. I figured he would come here & maybe get 15 min. a game & I hoped he would just provide vet. leadership & show the young guys how to play the right way. In my wildest dreams I had no idea that he would be as good as he ended up being. I don't feel that I am overstating this. Without Dale Davis the Indiana Pacers don't make the playoffs. If you think that's wrong then I guess I'll not argue, but I just can't see anyway we would have won the games we did without him. He has already in his short time here had three game winning or saving rebounds at the last seconds. He completley shut the middle down for us & has taken us from one of the worst rebounding & defensive teams to one of the best.
I've tried not to give it to him but I can't help myself A++ Ok, maybe just one plus.
John Edward. Hard to be realistic about him. For a 15th man I've seen worse.
I'll be generous & give him a C-
David Harrison. Man what could have been & hopefully what will someday be. He was the last pick in the first round so even making a team is a good start. But he had dashes where he looked like he would make the all-rookie team. I've already covered him in another thread so I won't rehash.
I give him a B-
Ok, fire away at me.
Basketball isn't played with computers, spreadsheets, and simulations. ChicagoJ 4/21/13