O'Neal's frustration boils over
He is tired of Pacers playing like 'a very average team,' ponders his future
by Mike Wells
DALLAS -- The Indiana Pacers' inconsistency has started to take its toll on their franchise player.
Forward Jermaine O'Neal spent about 20 minutes inside an empty locker room at the American Airlines Center late Thursday night venting about their 17-16 record.
"We're a very average team right now," O'Neal said. "We're going to be average until we decide as players that we want to win and do the right things we're supposed to do to win. If we don't do it, we're going to mingle around .500, get in the playoffs and then be out."
O'Neal's frustrations boiled over after the Pacers squandered an opportunity to end the Dallas Mavericks' 11-game winning streak Thursday. The Pacers played solid for the first three-plus quarters only to "self destruct" in the final few minutes.
The constant inconsistency has O'Neal thinking about his future with the Pacers. O'Neal, who is averaging a team-high 19.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game, reiterated his comments made to The Star last summer about playing with the team beyond this season.
"If I can't take this team to another level, I truthfully believe we should go our separate ways at the end of the season," said O'Neal, who added his first choice is to remain with the Pacers. "I'm saying in general, the bottom line is you play to win. If we don't have a system set to win a championship, if we don't have the crew to win a championship, then what are we doing?
"I'm getting to the point, I'm in my 11th year, I don't want to play 82 games and then exit to watch somebody else pop champagne. . . . I'm tired of that. I want to compete for a championship. If we can't do it, that's a whole (different) story."
When asked if he has taken his displeasure to CEO Donnie Walsh and team president Larry Bird, O'Neal said, "It's in the best interest of my team and the city not to comment about that. The bottom line is we win and lose as a team and everybody is responsible for it. The coaching staff all the way down to the players."
Walsh, making one of his few road appearances, said he understands O'Neal's frustration.
"I think he's played really well and if the time comes for (talking about O'Neal's future), then that will be the time. We'll see," Walsh said. "I don't like to respond to comments after a tough loss like that. We're going through a difficult part of the season. I'm frustrated, the coaches are frustrated on occasion and the team is frustrated."
The Pacers, who overhauled their roster last summer, have beaten Detroit and Orlando, two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, twice each this season. It's losses to Boston, Toronto, Seattle and Charlotte that have stopped any talk of them being an elite team in the East.
Tonight, they are at Oklahoma City.
The Pacers' longest losing streak is only three games. They have failed seven times to win three straight games.
"We've proven we can go out and beat the best teams in the East. We've also gone out and proven we can lose to the worst teams in the East," O'Neal said. "What's the solution? I don't know what the solution is. It's frustrating."
The Pacers' rotation has been just as inconsistent as their play on the court. Players are uncertain of their roles on the team. Talk about players having their own personal agenda has started to circulate around the locker room.
"Before the season started, we met with each one of our players and told them what is to be expected of each one of them," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "We coach them and try to do better. We don't always play great. The thing I'm encouraged about is our effort has been really good. We just have to cut down on mistakes."
Call Star reporter Mike Wells at (317) 444-6053.
Copyright 2006 IndyStar.com. All rights reserved