I want to do a position by position breakdown of where I think we stand at all of our spots on the floor.
Normally I would start this off with either the Center spot or the point guard spot on the floor but because, IMO, this is going to be decided here in the very near future (one way or the other) I want to start off this year by going a differant route.
First things first we must throw out our extreme views of Rick Carlisle to really look at where we stand with our coach. So in other words throw out the Jermainiac view that he can do no right & throw out the Uncle Buck view that he can do no wrong.
The truth is in the middle & together we will try & find it.
Let's just do a quick review of Rick's tenure with the team. He took a team that had no real structure & in his first season here put that team as the top winning team for the NBA for the regular season. They also took the eventual champs to 6 games before the season was cut off.
The following season he once again had the team starting off with a very good record and in fact looked to be on thier way to at least matching the season before for regular season wins.
Then the brawl occured, then injurys occured.
Rick was faced with a task that no other coach in the history of the NBA has been asked to do & that is win with 3 starters being suspended for longer than any other time. On top of that a slew of injurys & illnesses made it so that on certain nights of the week Rick had no idea who was going to play until game time.
Rick was able to take that team, with the help of a retiring Reggie Miller & a reaquired Dale Davis, & make the playoffs. Not only did they make the playoffs but they won thier first round series in 7 games & then went on to take the runner up to the champs to 6 games.
This past season on paper looked once again to be a team that should have a high regular season winning %. The early season started off fairly well but there were very few dominating wins. But the season started to turn in one game & in one crucial quarter IMO. We went to Milwaukee on 11/12 & blew a fourth quarter lead & lost the game on a last second shot at the buzzer. This in & of itself was not that big of a deal, teams lose leads all of the time & we've been beat before by a last second shot. What was differant in this loss was that several of our players missed crucial free throws down the stretch & it got to the point where the Bucks were fouling us & hoping we would miss. Which we did. Instead of inserting a top 5 free throw guy into the game (Saras) & at that time the # 1 free throw shooter in the NBA (Croshere) Carlisle never made the substitutions. Although Cro had missed two free throws already early in the game.
The reason any of this matters is because it was the first time that Rick had been questioned by both the media & his own players about why he didn't make changes in the game.
The Pacers then went on to be blown out the very next night by the Bobcats. After that they went on a little run but in all honesty it was never the same. Eventually Ron Artest demanded a trade & eventually got one but not before missing almost 6 weeks of on floor play & again the injury & illness bug hit our team.
Through it all Rick still managed to keep the team at .500% for the season & we still made the playoffs although we were eleminated in the first round 4-2.
That's just a brief synopsis of what has happened, if you want to go further with it feel free to add your thoughts to this.
Now let's look at Rick's coaching style & trust me I'm going to try & be as objective about this as I can be.
On the defensive end.
Rick prefers a straight up man to man defense. In his three years here I think we have employed a zone defense about 10 times (two of which came in the post season this year). From as best as I can tell we do not run a lot of traps on defense & while we do double the ball quite often I don't know that we really apply much pressure.
Rick's defense, IMO, is not designed to create turnovers. It is designed to limit shot selection.
Rick does place a strong emphasis on defense & I believe from day one of training camp he begins teaching this.
Rick does adapt, contrary to popular belief, his style to suite the players he has on the floor. When Ron was here Ron was able to free lance the passing lanes much more than what Rick allows Danny or Fred. If Foster is in the game we front the post whenever we have a real center in the game we generally play strong side post defense.
This is where the complaints generally arise about Rick from both his players & the fans.
Whenever Rick as a strong post player he tends to want to focus on running a 1-4 weak side isolation play. Also we have seen Rick slow down the pace of a game, even when it is to the Pacers advantage to go faster, so that we can have better clock & shot management.
This has cause players to frequently break plays or as in Artest case break his brain.
The good to this style is simple. It works, often times because we have a dominate post player (O'Neal) he is able to get off shots he wants & whenever we have a cutter he often times will find them going to the hoop. However this is also easy to defend if we do not have outside weapons as teams just double down on him & dare one of our other players to hit a shot.
Now here is where some (well Uncle Buck) will pull their hair out. Even though it works, many fans just can't stand it because at the end of the day while effective it's just down right boring to watch. It takes away from the team game that so many of us love to watch. However the argument that U.B. (& others I guess) will use with justification IMO is that what is more exciting that wins? It is a winning style during the regular season & in theory is should work in the post season as well.
Now before we skip past the offense I want to point out one other thing. Just like his defense Rick does adjust his style to the players on the floor. When Ron & J.O. were out & we had a smaller quicker lineup you saw a lot of ball movement & player movement on the floor & very few isolation plays ran.
Never forget one thing, Rick was the offensive co-ordinator during Larry Birds tenure as head coach & those were some of the more fluid offensive teams you will ever see play. That team did not just rely on 1-4 isolation plays however they did play a lot of post up offense with one small differance. Instead of using a big man like O'Neal in the post that team used Mark Jackson & Jalen Rose in the post to initiate our offensive movement. It worked like a charm & very few teams could stop that.
Now one last part of our offense & this part is also a sore spot for many people.
In many ways Rick's offense as we've seen it since his return to Indiana has been nothing more than the beginning point for his next defensive stand. Offensive rebounds are sacrificed so as no easy transition baskets can be scored. Time clock management is eployed often times to burn down the game clock to give the other team less time with the ball.
Also Rick by limiting ball movement does cut down on turn over potential.
For whatever reason a lot of players do not like playing for Rick Carlisle. Some of it is the style of offense he runs, some of it is simply the don't like him. This is not new either as he was not given the head coaching job after Bird left because the players did not want him as the coach. Detroit players have also made statements about Rick as well. Ron Artest listed it as the prime reason for not wanting to be here & had made several statements about this for the three years they were together.
Rick has one style to his coaching. Cool methodical & calculating. These are great traits btw & are probably the only reason why the team got threw the brawl year as well as it did.
However there are times your team needs a motivator & yes for lack of a better term a cheerleader or even an @ss kicker. From every report we've ever read, heard or seen Rick is just not that type of person. In fact I think that is one of the reason why this last season was more of a struggle than it should have been. Rick really was not able to do a rally around the flag type moment & thus stem the losing that occured in the latter months of the season.
Also there has been the issue of equal treatment from the coaching staff. Now to be honest with you this really might be more of a management issue than Rick's problem because I don't know how much support he would have gotten from Bird if he wanted to suspend Jackson for some games whenever Jax would yell at him when he was taken out of a game.
But either way, it mattered.
What does the future hold, what should the future hold?
Bird has already given him the seal of approval or the kiss of death. Depending on which way you believe. However one thing that TPTB F'd up big time on when issuing the "support the coach" speal was thier timing. If this is what Bird believed & if he thought that the players were trying to get the coach fired (which once again goes back to how well do the players like him) then why didn't he step up about a month before that & support his coach. Now the honest answer to that would be that maybe he did & we don't know it because we are not in the locker room. But then that begs the quesiton of if he did that why did he then go to the press with it leading me to beleive he did not do it any sooner than he appeared to have.
I could see Carlisle walk away from the team citing family issues or even just coming out & saying to much has happened for him to stay & who could blame him.
I could even see Bird still letting him go & not even feeling bad about saying they were going to keep him because they can always say that after they said that they saw things that they didn't think would work out or whatever.
Now having gone through all of that what do I think should happen?
I like Rick as a coach. He doesn't emphasize rebounding nearly enough for my taste & I certainly could live without the isolation plays. However his defense is a fine structually sound defense & if done properly does not allow any easy baskets.
However I think his time has come & gone. I just don't believe for one min. that the Pacers can trade away all of our players or even the majority of our players & I just think he has lost his voice with them.
I do believe that as the season went on he lost the team & that players were turning deaf ears towards him.
Scott H. touched on this the other day & I think it does ring true. If the fans see Rick on the sidelines next season it is going to seem like same old same old to them.
We went away from isolation basketball until Jermaine started to get ready to return & then slowly but surley we added more & more clear outs each game until by the playoffs that was our # 1 offense once again.
Also there is the matter of Center usage with Rick. I understand Harrison to a point (I disagree with him on it but I understand) but what I do not understand & probably will never understand is his lack of use for Pollard.
However it is safe to say that not many, if any, coach's could have done as well as he has for as long as he did under the circumstances here in Indiana.
For both Ricks sake & even the teams sake I think it's time for a new voice.
However, I suspect he will return.