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The short, sad fall of the Pacers
Feb 13, 2008 | 10:03AM | report this For the better part of a dozen years, the Indiana Pacers were one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and a blueprint of success.
Whether it was Larry Bird, Larry Brown or Rick Carlisle, they entered virtually every season as one of the favorites in the East, and reached the conference finals six times – winning the conference title in 2000 before losing to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Donnie Walsh was one of the pre-eminent general managers in the league and a bona fide guru when it came to rebuilding while making the playoffs in the process. Even Conseco Fieldhouse, which opened in 1999, was unique in its combination of marvelous sightlines and the historic feel it radiated in the homeland of Indiana basketball. Success had become commonplace for owners Herb and Mel Simon, the mall magnates who saved the failing franchise from moving in 1983, and Conseco was the place to be in revitalized downtown Indy.
Now they are example of how quickly everything can deteriorate – from what figured to be just another emotional rivalry game against the Detroit Pistons in the Palace of Auburn Hills more than four years ago - to tonight’s game in the Palace that has virtually no meaning at all.
It’s the unsettling story of how they went from perennial contender with sellout crowds to their present state of 21-31 with flagging attendance. It is yet another warning shot to the rest of the league how quickly things can unravel. It happened in Portland before the Blazers reached their present encouraging state of reconstruction.
The Pacers have yet to find the antidote.
In case you’ve forgotten, this fall from grace all began with that flying cup of beer that precipitated the infamous brawl in the Palace on Nov. 19, 2004, and they’ve been sliding downhill ever since.
The Pacers were about to defeat the rival Pistons 97-82 when Pistons forward Ben Wallace shoved Pacers forward Ron Artest. Words were exchanged, a technical was called on Wallace and the mercurial Artest strangely laid on the scorer’s table, presumably to calm himself. A fan threw a cup of beer at him, and the place exploded.
Fights broke out everywhere in the building before police finally calmed the uprising. Nine players were suspended by the NBA, five of them Pacers. Artest (86), Stephen Jackson (30) and Jermaine O’Neal (15, reduced from 25) – all key players – were suspended a combined total of 131 games. Arrests were made out of the crowd. Lawsuits followed. The Pacers struggled from potential conference champs to 44-38. Somehow coach Rick Carlisle got them through the first round of the playoffs – but the dye had already been cast.
And they can’t seem to stop the bleeding.
Since the start of that 2004-05 season, the Pacers have a winning percentage of .473 entering tonight’s game at the Palace against Pistons. In the seven seasons prior to that they had won at a .625 clip. Fan reaction in Indianapolis to the team went downhill after the brawl and the attendance in their marvelous basketball cathedral has dropped more than 30 percent from consistent sellouts of more than 18,000 to last in the NBA at 12,314 as we pull into the All-Star break.
Bird is now in his fifth season as president of basketball operations, with Walsh bumped up to CEO and one personnel move after another has come up empty. Feeling compelled to part ways with Carlisle after last season, they surprised a lot of people by hiring harsh Jim O’Brien, who had some success for a couple of years before being run out of Boston, then had a tumultuous 2004-05 season before getting the boot in Philadelphia.
They hung on to Artest for a year before unloading him for Peja Stojakovic, who stunningly bolted as a free agent after less than a season with the Pacers. Fortunately, they coaxed the Hornets into a sign-and-trade, which gave the Pacers a trade exception large enough to regain popular and talented forward Al Harrington, who they had dealt for Jackson. Nonetheless, it also cost them their 2007 top pick. That deal didn’t work either, and ironically both Jackson and Harrington were part of an eight-player deal with Golden State that brought Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu to the Pacers.
Meanwhile, they held on to O’Neal and point guard Jamaal Tinsley far too long. O’Neal is three years past superstar status thanks to a variety of injuries – mostly knee-related – and he’s seriously damaged goods making an average of about $21 million over the next three seasons. He hasn’t played in a month and they can only hope he’s ready to go at some level after the All-Star weekend because his market value is virtually nil. Tinsley, who ran with Jackson off the court conspicuously in the after-hours clubs, also is struggling physically and couldn’t be more unpopular with the fans. He’s missed six of the past nine games and won’t play tonight either.
Center David Harrison, their top pick in 2004, has been nothing but trouble on and off the floor. Marquis Daniels figured to give them lots of versatility after acquiring him for Dallas for Austin Croshere in 2006. Instead, he ended up being just another member of the Jackson and Tinsley crew in the heat of the night and an erratic performer on the floor.
Sure, they made a great draft pick in Danny Granger in 2005, a wonderfully talented all-around forward and the kind of good guy they sorely needed. Dunleavy is another positive, having his best season in the NBA and always a plus in the locker room and in the community. And yet, Murphy is erratic and injury prone, while Diogu still hasn’t come along as they had hoped. They remain optimistic about athletic 2006 top pick Shawne Williams, still a spot player at forward and only 22 (on Saturday). But what would have been the 10th overall pick in the talented 2007 draft was gone to Atlanta in reacquiring Harrington – and that hurt.
More recently, they’ve been very happy about what oft-traveled free agent Kareem Rush has brought off the bench shooting the 3-pointer and defensively. They also like what backup point guard Travis Diener does running the club, despite ankle problems. But let’s be honest … if they’re pumping up journeyman role players, it’s merely emblematic of how far they’ve fallen.
That would be 17.5 games behind the first place Pistons in the Central Division and two games ahead of the last place Bucks.
Maybe it’s just bad karma, maybe it’s just bad decisions by Bird. Whatever the case may be, since that notorious night four-plus years ago in the Palace, it’s been a nightmare. The good news is no matter what happens tonight, it has to be better than that.
Last edited by indyblue47; 02-13-2008 at 04:03 PM.
Reason: 1 link to many
I aggree with the article though. One thing I thought was a little unfair is what he writes about Quis though. I would have written something about his injuries, but I wouldn't act like he's a major problem child (which I don't think he is).
2012 PD ABA Fantasy Keeper League Champion, sports.ws
2011 PD ABA Fantasy Keeper League Champion, sports.ws