After Ron, a transition game
By Tim Legler
As much as we are entertained by the Ron Artest soap opera, the real-life victims are the Indiana Pacers, who have to continue to play three or four games a week.
Before Thursday's gutty 99-89 win in Golden State, the Pacers had lost five of their last six. Overall, they are just 6-6 since Artest asked for a trade.
Some think the Pacers are probably distracted by the Artest affair, but I don't think that's the real problem.
Rather, I think this situation creates two other problems.
First, they just can't put their best team on the floor. This team was built to be a big, strong, physical team, based on the post play of Jermaine O'Neal and the all-around play of Ron Artest.
Suddenly, the Pacers are a lot smaller. Instead of the 6-7, 260-pound Artest at "small" forward, the Pacers are using Stephen Jackson, a natural two guard.
Jackson is a good player -- but not only is he out of position, but he's miscast now as a primary scorer. He's a solid third scorer, the kind of guy who can get you 15 a night. Now he'll be expected to get more like 20 a night, and that's not really the kind of player he is.
Likewise, the Pacers are now smaller at the two guard spot, with Jackson forced over to the forward spot.
Overall, this creates mismatches against them, and hurts their ability to defend and rebound. The Pacers are built on defense and rebounding -- the things that Artest does well. Now the Pacers just aren't doing those things as well.
The second problem is that the absence of Artest, especially as he just sits out without being replaced, is demoralizing.
This was a team that had championship aspirations -- for two years they've been expecting to be a title contender. Now, for the second year in a row, they have to settle for being just another team. Sure, they can make the playoffs, but that's not what they had in mind when they started the season.
Also, they have to feel somewhat betrayed by the front office. No doubt the organization is doing what it can to make a good trade. But not only did the front office bring Artest back, but they also have been unable to make a move so far to help the team. That makes it difficult, both in basketball terms and in terms of morale, for the players who are actually playing.
Coach Rick Carlisle has done about as much as a coach can to handle these two issues. He's a strong tactician, and he knows how to keep a team moving in the right direction.
But, let's face it. Without Ron Artest, this just isn't the Indiana Pacers that anyone, including the Pacers, expected