I was a little slow getting to write this for a couple of reasons. One, I wasn't sure what I was going to write or where I'd take this. There's just so much ground to cover that it will probably be impossible to cover it all. And truthfully, I still don't know exactly where these meanderings will lead me.
Secondly, somebody say "ouch" because for several days I was suffering with back pain that made extended stays in the computer chair more than I could handle. It's still not gone but it only hurts mainly to get up now... so that probably means this might end up l o o o o n g .
I've already posted my goodbye to Reggie so I won't really rehash it here. It was wonderful to see him strap us all in the rollercoaster one last time and take us for another ride giving us all reason to believe one more time. His final game, against the dreaded Detroit Pistons, was all (and more) that his fans could've expected. He was the best Pacer on the court.
This season was inspiring, frustrating, sad, and in the end draining for me. I'm not sure how Rick Carlisle was able to keep bringing back the team from the dead. Just when it looked like we were finished, out of gas, overmatched, etc the team played an inspired game.
I have to admit, I questioned some of the things Rick did this season. Starting and overusing Curry. Relegating James Jones to the bench after some good games, and replacing him with Curry (when I thought it was clear we needed to be using James Jones and hoping the extended minutes helped ready him for later in the season and next year rather than wasting behind Curry). The 'throw it into JO' offense can end yesterday as far as I am concerned if that is all there is going to be to it. How can the players be buying into that and watching JO shoot bad shots and ignore open teammates? But somehow, someway, Carlisle always brought them around. At least I assume it was Carlisle. I guess the pessimist in me wonders if it was Reggie's presence and hope/respect his teammates had for his legacy that brought the players around more than anything Carlisle was doing.
I do think Carlisle's weakness is in game adjustments. His strong suit seems to be game to game adjustments. But overall, how he kept this team together and battling to the end, was nothing short of amazing. Very much COTY material. Even with my complaints and questions I can see that. I think Carlisle is a very good coach but I don't think he is a perfect coach. But perfect coaches are rare indeed... if they even exist at all.
I guess I have to mention 11/19 because everything changed that night. I personally don't think Artest's reaction was much different than many starters in the NBA would be in similar circumstances. The problem is, Artest was the last player (thanks to his history) that could do something like that. I also believe the mitigating circumstance should've allowed Artest to serve a long suspension but be back this year, even with his history.
I also believe 11/19 pointed out a problem with punishments in the NBA and a need for more creativity in handing out something other than 'death sentence' punishments. It's not fair to anybody, fans, players, owners, city, etc because too much money rides on the success of NBA teams. From the hard earned money spent by fans at the games, to the money spent at surrounding businesses in the city, to the money needed to operate the team, there needs to be a better way. Besides the money angle, it also puts players and coaches into situations where lots of questions are brought up. Overused players get injured and don't perform as well as hoped once they are forced out of the comfort zone. Coaching gets questioned.
And I am not sure these questions that are raised will automatically be answered and heal. They may be more like cracks in a foundation that grow and grow. That worries me. Can Humpty Dumpty be put back together again?
And while I am at it I want to mention all the talk we've heard in the past about the respect Walsh gets or how the Pacers are a model NBA team in the league. All that counted for apparently nothing come 11/19.
Meanwhile, the Pistons, the organization and fans, were allowed to walk away with barely a bump in their season. Not even a verbal lashing from the league- leaving Indiana to bear the brunt even tho there was more to the story than just Indiana at fault.
But what happened wasn't all bad. We did get a look at how our team reacts to adversity. Some get high marks... some... welllllll....
I question Carlisle's quick reinsertion of players back into the rotation. In the end, he ended up questioning it as well. I'm not as down on SJax as some of you are. I think there were some missed things in the Detroit episode that got his dander up to begin with (a major shove and who knows what was being said)... and I have no idea what was in his mind when he went into the stands. Did he really go in swinging randomly? No...
Was he going to get Ron? Was he going to pick random fights? We'll never know because several Piston fans reacted first.
JO was probably overused on his return but IMHO Sjax most certainly was.
I think this season also exposed several things. Artest's importance is one of them. That doesn't mean he couldn't be replaced but it is clear to me that of the current players Artest is more valuable than JO. I now believe JO is overrated and has much farther to go before he can carry a team... if he ever can. He has lots to work on, much of it above his injured shoulder. JO is more of a complimentary type player and needs others. He's Robin, he needs a Batman. The fallacy of thinking he is anywhere near Duncan should've been put to rest this season. That is not to say JO should be tossed out with the first deal that comes along to rid ourselves of the Bender curse but it is to say we (fans and coaches) need to ratchet down the expectations that JO is our savior. He may not even end up the heir to the throne that Reggie just abdicated.... altho I am sure he'll sit on it and declare himself emperor.
I worry that he won't 'get it', that he'll have trouble being second fiddle. That he will 'dominate' the ball. That he will force the team to choose between the best for the team and some balance that keeps JO happy.... that nobody will be willing to tell the emperor he has no clothers. He'll be 27 I believe this next season. It's way past time to quit using youth or immaturity as an excuse. He's been in this league 8-9 years.
He's our max player. I don't think it is asking too much that he be expected to lead by example and that means hard work, fundamentals, sharing the ball, not forcing shots, playing defense, making his teammates better, etc..
Bender.... If no deal can be found to take him then I say cut him. Eat the money and send a signal that enough is enough and this team is expected to be TOUGH. Bender and 'tough' don't belong in the same sentence. This past season should have shown all of us the problem of wasting roster spots on players who can't or won't play for whatever reason.
I'm pretty much resigned to the fact Artest will be here next season. We need to make sure the cupboard isn't bare if he should get suspended.... or decide he wants to retire or only play on days with a "T" in the name... or whatever (and I am one of the people who believes his retirement was FAR worse than what he did in Detroit). But then maybe if JO is the prima donna I am starting to believe he could be then that could wear on anyone... especially somebody that isn't wired quite the same as most people in the first place. While we can't expect equal value for Artest at this point, our insurance policy could certainly be someone of the quality (or better) than we could expect in a trade. IOW, instead of trading Artest for an average player and then being without Artest, why not just sign an average or better player as the insurance policy and just keep Artest? Could that be James Jones?
I'm still not convinced Gregg Foster is starting material. I like him as the energy guy off the bench. To me, that there's an argument that Jeff should be our starting center points out how weak we are there. I'm intrigued by Harrison. Maybe he can learn from Dale (and his season with Reggie) about what it is going to take and he can put to rest questions of who starts.
When Larry Bird was announced to be heading to the front office I got pretty excited. I thought maybe the days of standing pat were behind us. I believed Bird wouldn't be satisfied with anything but a championship. Well, it's time for him to get to work... or for Donnie to lean on him... because it is not a given that we'll be on par with Detroit next year (they own JO and Artest didn't exactly eat them up in 2004)... Does Sjax make the difference with our core? And then Miami scares me even tho we did well against them this year. And Scott Skiles scares me as well. He can coach.
I'm a firm believer that you do have to make trades and tweaks just to keep from getting stale. It also energizes the fanbase... altho a "Bender is healing" story seems to energize some Pacer fans WAY more than it should.
Tinsley.... I am now officially worried about Tinsley as our starting PG. I know I tend to 'see' things some of you easily dismiss BUT I think there was more to his extended leave after his mother died than we were told. I don't know what it might've been- problem with a teammate, injury, quit on the team, etc... but I will always think there was more to the story besides mourning. Regardless, we still have the injury plague with him. We have more seasons where he can't play... or can't play at 100%, because he's injured. Again.
Patterns are important.
Another thing I am worried about with this collection of players is them trying to fill the vacuum created with Reggie's departure. Rather than let it naturally happen I could see some of these guys forcing things and causing problems. Rick might have his work cut out for him here. But then he somehow managed to pull them together this season.
I will say this, if Carlisle is to blame for this "throw it into JO" offense and "never see the ball again until after JO shoots" then I am ready to start helping Carlisle pack. I'm doubting this is exactly what Carlisle wants tho. Regardless of why we see it, if we still see it overused (abused) again next season then we can forget about a championship. Until that is corrected, until JO learns to pass the ball, until he learns not to force things, until he learns to keep his head into the game, we WILL be beat in the playoffs. That is just too easy to defend AND demoralizing for the team and fans.
11/19 as brought us a lot of questions. It might have also given us some answers... although not necessarily answers we are wanting to hear.
BTW... Our little run without JO and with Reggie again the focus and Dale setting screens and grabbing IMPORTANT rebounds pretty much told me what I knew all along. The 1999 and 2000 teams had more in the tank even without Rik. Deferring to JO has been a mistake on either Reggie's part, coaching, or management's part.
On another note... I don't think I'll ever forget that Orlando game with only 6 players available. And the Boston game a few nights later will also stay with me. I can still see a frustrated Paul Pierce complaining about losing to the "3rd string".