March 29, 2007
What's the point? Go ahead and tank it
That's the thought that kept running through my head Tuesday night, sitting and watching the Pacers lose their 15th out of 17 games, watching the Cleveland Cavaliers toy with the home team, watching the Pacers' doomed season circle the drain one more time.
Like, how about telling Jermaine O'Neal, "Look, that knee isn't getting any better, and we think it's time to shut you down?"
What about giving Jamaal Tinsley the rest of the season off, just to save the Pacer Nation the horror of watching him play perimeter defense?
How about Jeff Foster, who left Tuesday's game with the Cavaliers because of back spasms? Those things need time, you know.
The point is, with the Pacers' season right now, there is no point. You say there's a breakneck playoff race for the final spot in the Eastern Conference? Sure. And you could feel the energy Tuesday, when a whisper more than 14,000 showed up, mostly to watch LeBron James. The truth is, this franchise is as irrelevant as it has ever been, and that won't change with a five-game-long playoff series against Detroit or whomever.
Tanking it -- sorry, let's call it "coming down with a case of convenient ineptitude" -- serves two purposes.
First and foremost, it gets the Pacers in a better position to win one of the top 10 lottery spots. The Pacers, of course, dealt their first-round pick to Atlanta in the Al Harrington trade. (Maybe you remember the "Baby Al Is Back!" era. It lasted about 10 minutes.) The good news is, if the Pacers' draft pick is in the top 10, they keep it. But if they draft beyond the 10th spot -- which is where they are this minute -- Atlanta gets the pick.
I figure, if you're going to have a horrible season, there might as well be some kind of payoff, right?
With all due respect to the bottom line of owners Mel and Herb Simon, the worst thing the Pacers can do right now is fight and scratch their way into the playoffs. Or be just good enough to finish outside of the top 10, which would be a double-whammy. Miss the playoffs and lose their only draft pick.
By my way of thinking, tanking it serves another purpose.
It gives us a chance to see what the young players can do.
Let's see what Shawne Williams can do with more than four minutes of playing time. The Pacers didn't see fit to send him to the developmental league, so give him some meaningful court time now.
Let's see what Ike Diogu can do. He was the wild card in the big deal with Golden State, and it's still hard to figure if he's going to be a player. The early returns have not been good -- the next time he passes out of the post will be the first -- but there is no way of truly knowing unless he gets time.
Let's see what David Harrison looks like in a uniform. This has been a lost season for Harrison, who has shown glimpses when he isn't committing four fouls in three minutes of play. Give him a map to the floor and see if he's got a future.
How about Orien Greene? Or Keith McLeod? Are either of these guys keepers?
Every time Maceo Baston plays, he gives them some production -- or at least good effort -- but he's buried at the end of the bench. Bringing a guy in from Israel, that's a long way to go for him to be a "DNP-Coach's Decision" almost every night.
Look, the Pacers know what they have with their other players.
And the answer is, not much.
Think O'Neal isn't painfully aware this team isn't going anywhere, this year or for the foreseeable future? He's going to want out -- I couldn't blame him -- and the Pacers would be smart to cut the cord. O'Neal and Danny Granger are the only tradable commodities, and you've got to figure O'Neal would be the centerpiece of a deal that gets the rebuilding job under way.
The midseason trade, the one that led to the Pacers falling off a cliff, has been, to be kind, a disaster.
To paraphrase former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, when it comes to Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy, they are who we thought they were. They're complimentary players on a good team, but nothing more. And they own long-term deals that will shackle the Pacers for some time to come.
Here's where it gets dicey, though. Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh seem singularly unwilling to pooch-punt this season and acknowledge the house has to be razed before it's rebuilt. And if Rick Carlisle's job is on the line, there's no way he's going to agree to take more lumps on his way out the door. He's here to win, not set the table for the next coach.
The best thing that can happen is, all of this takes care of itself and the Pacers continue to lose even when they're not actively trying to tank the season.
Based on their play the past month or so, I think they're up to the challenge.