What a great ride this season has been! I don't know exactly when it happened but there was a point late in the season where everyone quit waiting on the tailspin that felled us last year and were just able to enjoy the ride that much more.
We all knew things would be different this season but nobody could've predicted 60+ wins and a trip to the ECF's. We were actually able to talk about making the ECFs and even the NBA Finals without making fools of ourselves to other fans. Going from 1st round washouts to the ECF's is no small feat. Getting a team to (for the most part) get on the same page when they've fallen apart in previous seasons was also no small feat.
Going into the season there were question marks. JO: How would he respond to Isiah's firing? How would he respond to owning a fat contract? Artest: Would he explode and blow up our season? Reggie: What was left in the tank and was the previous year a fluke or a preview? Al: Would he start or could he embrace coming off the bench? Pollard: Would he make us forget what's-his-name? Bender: ? ...And of course... How would the team respond to Rick Carlisle?
Walsh had already stated the team was put together badly. Nothing much was done to address that. Then again, what could anyone glean from Isiah's coaching of this team?
But then we know what has transpired. Carlisle was able to get the team to play team ball. He was able to somehow minimize our flaws. But make no mistake, we have flaws. Fortunately, we now have a much clearer view of the team and bench thanks to Carlisle's consistency.
It's hard to fathom that a team with Reggie Miller in the backcourt has problems scoring the basketball from the backcourt. But that is one answer that we have. While better than last year, Reggie is no longer the sharp shooting assassin that we can count on. He's lost a step as well. Defense really got us in trouble at Miller's position. Opposing players usually abused him. Something must be done to shore up our weakness at the 2 guard spot. While my heart says he should stay but come off the bench with MUCH reduced minutes.... my head says we need him to retire so the whole organization can move one.
Artest.... wow... what an enigma. He had games where his intensity and will to win made you love having him on the team. ... but then the ECF's got here and he went off on his own agenda. And most are still waiting on him to erupt tho he seemed to mostly have that stuff behind him. But then the team was winning too... Winning makes for happier players. Our first bump in the road and Artest was reverting to 'me-ism' (NJ). I'm of a mind to question some of Artest's missed practices and games when I look at the bigger picture. Maybe I am being too skeptical. It wouldn't surprise me to see Artest moved altho I could see why the team would give him another season.
Harrington. I believe he is maxed out. He's never going to be the player he thinks he is plus we are overloaded up front anyway. I like his energy but I question his basketball IQ. Maybe it is just me but when I see Artest taking bad shots I get the feeling it at least is him trying to win... when I see Harrington jacking up bad shots I get the feeling he is just looking for stats. I could be wrong. Still, how many players taking bad shots does one team keep around? I think Harrington is gone. Maybe packaged with Artest... maybe not. Harrington should be gone before the league figures out he isn't the player he thinks he is.
Bender. Is it really 5 years? We've watched and waited on him for 5 years? That is too long to wait on any player IMHO. I personally don't want any players getting too comfortable with their spot on a team. It's kind of hard to keep that edge when you have a player like Bender getting a generous extension and doing nothing to deserve it. Plus, the team grows without him. Decisions need to be made, and are made, with question marks surrounding him. I really hoped Carlisle would be the change of scenery he needed. While there might've been a little improvement the deer in the headlights look is still there. I think we see what we get. But I'm not sure we aren't stuck with him... and him with us. At this point a change of scenery couldn't hurt him either. Maybe to a team that can take their lumps and just let him learn on the court. I think Bender was just too raw coming into the NBA and he came to a team that had no place for an extra raw rookie. And then 3 years of Isiah Thomas didn't do him any favors either.
Foster was a pleasant surprise. I still have questions about him though. I like my centers/PF being able to score at least a little. Defense and rebounding are fine and first priority for a C but a little scoring would be nice. Particularly when your big guns are also frontline players... and moreso when your guards aren't able to really spread the floor for your big gun(s).
Pollard. Ugh.... I'm going to assume his injury curtailed his career because otherwise I don't know why the Pacers even bothered. There's not much to say here for me.
Tinsley. I was worried about Tinsley to start the season. I thought he had a bad attitude and was taking to the bench or limited minutes very well... but he proved me wrong. I was a Tinsely supporter to begin with so I am glad to see him come around. I believe he is a 'keeper'. I'm not sure AJ is the best backup for him though.
Freddy Jones.... Slam Jones. I like his swagger. His confidence grew all year long. If he can maintain his end of season shooting then he brings some things to the table we can use. Quickness. Defense. Slashing. Can he be a starter? Hmmmmm.... dunno... but I think he can PUSH a starter and make sure the starter doesn't get too comfortable.
Croshere... He is what he is. I think he is fundamentally sound and that helps. He needs to work on getting into the flow quicker. I doubt anyone would take him due to his $$$$ so he is ours. He is a team player. He could easily be a cancer due to what he's been thru but he appears to be anything but a cancer.
So what worries me? Joe Dumars. He is the 'anti-Walsh'. He does the things I always wished a Pacer GM would do. He is constantly moving the team forward and keeping the fanbase and media energized. He doesn't let mistakes fester. Darko may be a stroke of genius or a bust.. but I bet he won't be a question mark for 5 years. Detroit will move on if they need to. This year he could've hoped Brown's coaching and time would help them get past the Pacers but he aimed higher. He made a move that leapfrogged the Pacers and gives LA something to worry about. And IF they can't beat LA this year I don't expect he will stand pat. He will do something to make them better on paper... and Brown will put it together on the court.
Therefore, we can't stand pat. We must stay in touch and press them. And it isn't just them. Miami... the Cavs....NJ.....
I don't look for Dumars to blow up the team if they don't beat LA and create a vacuum in the conference like happened when the Pacers were allowed to dismantle in 99 and 2000.
I don't think we are in a situation where the conference will fall back to us and improving from within is possible.
But that's just me.... I'm sure I'll be told that we had the best record in the NBA and would've beaten Detroit if we weren't injured.
Bird and Walsh surprised me by dumping Isiah last year and bringing in Carlisle. Do they have another surprise for this year or will we be back to the old plan of growing from within? If they do try growing from within then I believe our window of opportunity will close rapidly. We'll be a playoff contender... but getting all the way to the finals wil be TOUGH because other teams will be improving around us and Detroit is already better (assuming they can keep it together) and they aren't exactly 'old'.