October 3, 2007
Can you believe it? Now he's giving Pacers another chance
I'm giving the Indiana Pacers a do-over.
A second (or is it fifth?) chance to make a good impression.
The area's fans, who have gone from love to hate to utter ambivalence in recent years, can approach the brand, spanking new 2007-08 season any way they wish. After all, it costs them money to attend games. For me, it's free.
I'm going to be like the murderous Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, who declared that he was turning back the official calendar and declaring it to be the Year Zero. I am not comparing myself to the Khmer Rouge leader, by the way. That guy couldn't make deadline if his life depended on it.
Everybody gets a free pass, a get-out-of-jail card, which really could have come in handy a number of times in recent seasons.
Larry Bird. This is Bird's rookie year in management. Yes, he was involved in all the front-office moves previous to this season; it's not like he was just standing around, getting Donnie Walsh's coffee while the team's CEO was extending the contract of Jamaal Tinsley and giving away Al Harrington. But until now, it wasn't his team, and already he has shown a willingness to drop the hammer, suspending Shawne Williams and then fining him for missing his court date.
Sure, we all would have loved to have seen a seismic trade this summer, but as long as the Los Angeles Lakers were unwilling to part with young center Andrew Bynum, there weren't any deals that made sense.
Jim O'Brien. He doesn't need a do-over because he's starting anew. I'll admit, when he was named coach, my first (and second and third) reaction was, "Huh? Is that the same O'Brien who got run out of Ohio State?'' He wasn't, and he also wasn't on anybody's media radar.
But O'Brien already has impressed players and media types as a straight shooter and a solid basketball mind. He wants to run. He wants to spread the floor. He wants to shoot more 3-pointers.
The players, in particular, love that the offense won't be quite so structured and Rick Carlisle won't be on the sideline calling out every play.
Perhaps the best move was O'Brien bringing Dick Harter back to Indy with him to improve that terrible defense.
Jermaine O'Neal. Look, I'm not naive. O'Neal might have been quoted out of context out in Los Angeles, but everybody knows he has one foot out the door, and if the season goes in the dumper, his gaze will turn westward. Some of his quotes about Bird, whom he mistrusts deeply, were simply too on-the-mark to be spun out of whole cloth by a misguided journalist.
The way I see it, J.O. is out of excuses. There's no more Ron Artest or Stephen Jackson. There's no more Harrington, whom he got along with beautifully off the court, but was mismatched with on the court. There's no more Carlisle, yelling out plays. There's no more Brawl fallout, even if J.O. said Monday he still thinks officials are penalizing the Pacers for their role in the Malice at the Palace.
Yeah, it would be nice if the Pacers could get a big man to play alongside him (hello, David Harrison), but it hasn't happened yet and may never happen.
Jamaal Tinsley. This is a tough one for me.
Every year about this time, somebody says that Tinsley is in wonderful shape and is ready to attack the regular season with a new fervor. And every year, he reverts back to form. If Isiah Thomas couldn't motivate him beyond that first half-season of his rookie year, why will O'Brien?
I'm told O'Brien's style is far more conducive to meshing with Tinsley's strengths, and the new coach is thrilled about the prospect of coaching Tinsley.
Be careful what you wish for.
The Golden State guys. When Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu got here last year, they were thrust into a very structured offense. It took a lot of practicing, a lot of drilling and studying to make the transition to Carlisle's style of play. Their unfamiliarity with the Pacers' offense showed. The team went 6-23 after the deal.
On the flip side, Jackson and Harrington went to a Golden State team that featured a free-flowing, defense-optional style. Shoot first, ask questions later. No wonder Jackson was in heaven.
This time, the Golden State Three get to play in a system that would appear, at least from a distance, that's slightly more suited to their talents. And, most important, they get to learn the O'Brien way at the same time as all the other Pacers.
So there it is: After five years of on- and off-court madness, I'm ready and willing to give the Pacers a tabula rasa, a clean slate. It's the least I can do. Whether the fans will be willing to extend that courtesy after so many embarrassing incidents, that's up to them.
Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star. Call him at (317) 444-6643 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.