KEY ROLES FOR DUNLEAVY, MURPHY, DIOGU
Trade trio hungry for redemption
By Conrad Brunner | Oct. 4, 2007
Having spent a little time as an NBA analyst in his sabbatical from coaching, Jim O'Brien understands the tendency for knee-jerk reaction to bury a trade before it has a chance to take root. It doesn't mean he has to agree.
Fully aware of widespread criticism of the Pacers' eight-player trade with Golden State last season that brought Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu to Indiana, O'Brien believes the tide of opinion will turn this season because the coach sees the three ex-Warriors playing vital roles in lifting the Pacers back into playoff contention.
"People have said in the past that we sent Al (Harrington) and Stephen Jackson to Golden State and did we get enough value back?" O'Brien said. "I think when all is said and done we're going to look back on the trade for Ike and Murph and Mike very, very favorably here and I anticipate it'll start this year."
Dunleavy looks like the front-runner to start at shooting guard, while Murphy's shooting ability and added bulk could push him past Jeff Foster at center. Diogu remains something of a wild card but all indications are he will be given every opportunity to secure a prominent role in the rotation.
"Why they didn't achieve at the level that maybe some people would have predicted (last season), I think it's very difficult to get traded in the middle of the year, I think the situation here was a little bit in disarray," O'Brien said. "It's tough to change in the middle of the year to be able to acclimate them into a system smoothly. That's the best I can do.
"I would say a year from now, as this year goes a long, everybody is going to feel pretty good about who they really are as players. I don't think they've scratched the surface in Indiana yet."
That would mean redemption for young veterans Dunleavy and Murphy, who bore the brunt of media criticism for the Warriors' annual failings, and a much-anticipated breakthrough for Diogu, whose output has not yet squared with his talent.
It also would erase a painful stigma. None of the three have been to the playoffs, a problem that became more acute when they joined the Pacers in midseason, only to see their new team fail to reach the postseason for the first time in 10 years.
As much as those things would mean for the players, individually, they would mean even more to the Pacers, collectively.
DUNLEAVY: PUTTING THE FUN IN FUNDAMENTAL
To this point in his career, Dunleavy has been known more for what he hasn't done than what he has. Though he's been a productive player, averaging at least 11.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists in each of the past five seasons, he hasn't become a star -- an expectation immediately assigned when a player is drafted No. 3 overall.
With his trade to Indiana, however, Dunleavy has shed the burden of Golden State expectations and now is free to achieve to his level, whatever that may be.
"It's almost a good-news, bad-news joke to be drafted No. 3," said O'Brien. "The good news is you're drafted No. 3; the bad news is in some cases the expectations are unattainable early on in your career. I think especially being here, with the understanding of the people of Indiana of good basketball, of what good playmaking can be – I don't just look to Jamaal Tinsley as a playmaker, I think Mike Dunleavy is a playmaker.
"I'm going to want the ball in his hands because he can not only score but he makes passes, he makes things happen. He has an understanding of the game of basketball at a very high level and I want to take advantage of that. If you're looking for him to be one of the top scorers in the league you're not going to see it. He's always going to have a good assist-turnover ratio, he's going to be a good rebounder, he's just going to be a great team player."
Dunleavy settled in nicely with the Pacers last year, averaging 14.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 43 games, all starts. After leaving the abstract up-tempo system of Golden State Coach Don Nelson, he adapted to the halfcourt approach of former Indiana Coach Rick Carlisle. Enter O'Brien, who wants the Pacers to play at a faster offensive tempo with a focus on the 3-point shot.
In desperate need of a fresh start when the trade was made, Dunleavy now has a second in nine months.
"I felt like midseason last year during the trade, that was my fresh start," he said. "But for this team and this organization, hopefully we can have kind of a new beginning, put things in the past that are in the past and get a fresh start."
A durable player, Dunleavy has missed no more than seven games in any of his NBA seasons. He added bulk and strength over the summer and worked to regain the consistency of his 3-point shot. After making a career-high .388 from the arc in 2004-05, he shot below 30 percent the past two seasons.
It was widely theorized that he lost confidence because of the stream of criticism he endured while with the Warriors. Dunleavy won't cop to that excuse and O'Brien doesn’t put much stock in it, either.
"I don't know if he lost confidence," the coach said. "He's not going to lose confidence for us, if that's an issue, because he's going to know quickly how much we believe in what he brings to this. If you're only going to use Mike as a shooter, that's just one element of the game. There's so much more he can bring to us than just shooting the ball. He's unselfish, sometimes to a fault, he's a very good and very sly defensive player, so he's going to be a stat-sheet stuffer, I think."
More than any statistical goal, however, Dunleavy is fueled by the motivation of wanting to prove his ability to contribute to a winner.
"I think a lot of guys, individually, have personal challenges this year, goals – redemption, almost, you could say, in terms of the way last season finished up," he said. "Whether it be you didn't finish the season because you were injured or didn't finish the season for whatever reason, I think a lot of guys are motivated to have a good year this year individually, and I think collectively as a team that can go a long way."
MURPHY: GOING BACK TO HIS TOUGH-GUY ROOTS
When Murphy arrived in Indianapolis last January, Larry Bird almost needed to double-check his ID. In an effort to fit in with the more free-wheeling, open style of Nelson, Murphy had trimmed weight from his physique and fallen into some habits that could most politely be described as finesse-oriented.
In other words, he wasn't himself.
Though Murphy was relatively productive with the Pacers, averaging 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds and hitting 40.9 percent of his 3-point shots, his game showed troubling signs of evolving away from its roots. This is, after all, a guy that averaged double-doubles three times in four seasons from 2002-2006 while ranking in the NBA's top six in rebounding three times.
In his postseason meeting with Murphy, Bird sent a clear message.
"I watched almost all his games in college (Notre Dame)," Bird said. "He's got to get back to being the mean guy I used to know and playing with a chip on his shoulder. He's very capable of having a double-double every night and I think that's his goal this year. I think he'll have an outstanding year. …
"When he left here last summer he said he was going to dedicate himself to getting stronger and getting back to playing the way he used to."
To suggest Murphy welcomed this particular assignment would be an understatement. He hit the weight-room hard and reported weighing a rock-solid 250 pounds, up more than 10 from last year. More importantly, he adjusted his mindset.
Asked about Bird's request that he return to his tough-guy roots, Murphy smiled.
"I think we'll be alright in that regard," he said. "I don't know how mean and nasty I was (in college). I guess I was pretty mean and nasty. I used to eat glass, you know?
"I know what I'm capable of. I'm going to do all that and I'm going to be nasty and I'm going to do all that stuff. I'm looking forward to it. I really like doing that stuff because I have like a screw loose. There are not many jobs you can have where your boss wants you to be mean and nasty, so I'm excited."
Murphy is vital to the Pacers' cause this season, not only because they needed his rebounding and interior toughness, but shooting -- a particularly valuable trait in O'Brien's system.
"Murphy can flat-out shoot it," the coach said. "He can rebound the basketball. He has been a more effective low-post player than he showed last year. But he shot close to 40 percent from the 3-point line. To have a guy that's potentially going to start for us at the center spot, or one of the big spots, to be able to space the court really opens things up for Jermaine (O'Neal), Jamaal (Tinsley), Marquis Daniels, post-ups of Dunleavy and (Danny) Granger, so that's a very important element."
O'Brien is Murphy's seventh coach in seven NBA seasons (following Dave Cowens, current Fever coach Brian Winters, Eric Musselman, Mike Montgomery, Nelson and Carlisle) and he relishes the thought of settling in for a long, successful and stable run. But his hunger for a first playoff trip is even stronger.
"It's a huge motivating factor," he said. "It was difficult to watch the playoff games on TV and I know it motivated me throughout the summer."
DIOGU: WILD-CARD READY TO BE PLAYED
Statistical projections are nice but, frankly, Diogu's a little tired of being the subject of extrapolations. The way he sees it, this is the third season of his NBA career and it's time to get on with it.
"I go into every year thinking I'm going to have a breakout year just by the way I work in the offseason," said the burly young forward. "I don't really take too much time off. So hopefully this will be the year, hopefully I'll get some extended minutes and that's basically what I'm looking for. I don't question if I can produce in this league because I know I can. Once I start getting consistent minutes, that's when consistent play comes.
"I've just got to go out and show the coaching staff what I'm capable of doing, not only offensively but defensively. I have to have the complete package on both ends and know what to do in every situation so the coaching staff will be more comfortable with me."
When the Pacers made the trade, Diogu was perceived by many to be the key because of his potential. To be sure, the Warriors weren't anxious to part with a player drafted No. 9 overall out of Arizona State in 2005 but the Pacers insisted on his inclusion.
But Carlisle never fully accepted Diogu into the rotation, despite occasional flashes of brilliance. There was the 19-point, nine rebound game in Memphis; the 32 points and 22 rebounds in two games against San Antonio; and then the parting shots, 33 points and 15 rebounds in the final two games. In nine games when Diogu played at least 20 minutes, he averaged 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds. It was the other 33 that left him wanting and fans mystified.
"Last year was pretty frustrating for me," he said. "I always have big goals for myself. I work hard in the offseason. I just got caught in the shuffle last year so it was tough. It's a new start. I think they have big plans for me here this year so we've just got to see what happens."
Diogu's fourth coach in three seasons, O'Brien appears to have big plans for the somewhat undersized power forward. At 6-8, Diogu must show he can hold his own defensively against bigger players. He already has demonstrated that he knows how to use his unusually long arms and thickly muscled 250-pound torso on offense.
"Ike, I studied more on tape because he didn't get the type of playing time in the East where I particularly concentrated on him," said O'Brien. "But what I saw about Ike is he can run. I was really surprised when we worked out this summer at how well he shoots the ball and with the range he shoots it. He's very skilled in the low-post from the standpoint of his moves and you love people like Ike and Jeff (Foster) who are what I would call diagonal rebounders. They not only rebound their side of the basket, but if the ball goes to the other side they'll go and get it. "
This year's physical project for Diogu was to work on his quickness, to add some finesse to his powerful game. He's anxious for the opportunity to demonstrate the full range of his skills.
"We've got a new coaching staff coming in, they say they're really excited to coach me this year," Diogu said. "I'm just going to go out there and play hard. That's what Coach O'Brien expects for you to do. He hasn't really defined roles but one thing he does expect is for everybody to go out and play hard. So I'm definitely going to do that."
For Diogu, like Dunleavy and Murphy, this season offers yet another chance for a new start.
What they really crave, however, is a new finish.