Some interesting comments by Rick. I'm not too sure what JJ means
Changes Looming as Pacers Look Ahead
By Conrad Brunner | May 20, 2005
Despite its bittersweet end, the 2004-05 season was regarded by Coach Rick Carlisle as "one of the most rewarding years I've ever experienced in the game."
As important as it was to recognize the achievement of overcoming an unprecedented, unrelenting stream of adversity to win 44 games and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals before falling in six games to the defending champion Detroit Pistons, as well as to pay homage to the conclusion of Reggie Miller's storied career, the players have an even more significant task on their immediate agenda:
Putting it in the past and getting back to the business of contending for a championship next season.
"There's a lot of work to be done," Carlisle said Friday after a brief team meeting. "There's going to be some changes. We're going to work to make the team better. Any success we had this year was great but we're really in this to win a championship and that should be everyone's goal. …
"We're certainly proud of what the guys were able to accomplish under extreme circumstances but, moving forward, we're not in this to get to the second round and be happy with it."
To that end, Carlisle addressed a number of issues facing the team, among them:
Ron Artest, who he said will be welcomed back with open arms;
The likelihood of changes to the roster, although he wouldn't elaborate in detail;
The need to fill Miller's void both as a team leader and as a clutch player;
The health of Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley, who both battled significant injury problems during the latter stages of the regular season but returned for the playoffs.
Though Artest was the central figure in the events of Nov. 19, which resulted in the devastating suspensions that effectively ended the team's championship hopes, Carlisle said he was eagerly anticipating the return of the All-Star forward.
"My sense is our team has a certain amount of compassion for what Ron went through this year," Carlisle said. "When he's been back with the team in practice, our players have embraced him as a member of the squad. I very much look forward to him being back, personally."
The core of the roster is under contract for next season and beyond, leaving no salary cap room for the team to be a major player in free agency. Veteran Dale Davis and James Jones, forwards who emerged as key players late in the season, both are free agents and there is interest in retaining both. The Pacers hold the 17th pick in the June draft, but it would appear any substantial changes would have to be made through the trade market.
"I think it's important that our fans understand we're not standing pat," Carlisle said. "We’re going to be proactive in trying to make the team better. There certainly are going to be a lot of possibilities as to how that can be done.
"It could go a lot of different ways. It's very early in the offseason process. Larry (Bird) and Donnie (Walsh) will be the decision-makers. But I wouldn't rule out anything."
A common theme among the players after the Game 6 loss centered on a lack of mental toughness.
“You can have all the talent you want. You can have the best team, but that doesn’t really equate into much of anything," said Anthony Johnson. "You have to stay healthy and you have to be mentally tough. We have a lot of mentally tough guys in this room. We have to look into the mirror. Maybe we are not as mentally good as we need to be."
Questioned about what it would take for the team to get past the Pistons, James Jones offered an interesting perspective.
"The Pacers have to get past themselves," he said. "We give games away sometimes and that’s what we did this year. We had a lot of opportunities to take control of our destiny and we just didn’t do it. …. Once we get to that level to play championship-style basketball every day, night-in and night-out, then everything else will take care of itself.”
Miller passed the mantle of team leadership to O'Neal. Though Stephen Jackson is expected to move into Miller's vacated shooting guard spot in the starting lineup, it remains to be seen who will assume the role of go-to scorer when big shots are needed.
"One of the things about losing a guy like Reggie is it raises a lot of questions about the future," Carlisle said. "We all need to understand it gets tougher without a guy like Reggie Miller, who wanted the responsibility of being the franchise player, who wanted the responsibility of winning or losing games."
O'Neal said Thursday night he planned to have an MRI to gauge the progress of his right shoulder, which suffered a sprain in early March. Though he returned for the final three games of the regular season and the playoffs, his postseason statistics (16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, .365 shooting) reflected a player at less than full strength.
Tinsley, who missed the final 29 regular-season games with a mid-foot sprain and stretched ligament in his left foot but returned for Game 5 of the first-round series against Boston, also was not himself, though he was productive in flashes. First-round pick David Harrison, who showed promise early in the season, finished on the injured list after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
"Health issues will be a factor as we get into the summer," Carlisle said. "Once we get those resolved, we'll have a better idea how to move forward."
The only player on the roster with a championship ring made it clear the process must begin right away.
"The sky’s the limit," said Jackson. "Obviously a lot of things are going to be different next year. Me and all the young guys - J.O. (Jermaine O’Neal), Tinsley, Ron - we have got to start now. We have to start preparing now. I remember the year we won the championship in San Antonio. Two weeks after we lost (the previous year), we were in the gym, me and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. And in the final year we were able to win a championship.
"So it starts now for us, man. We have to come back and redeem ourselves from all of this.”