Note: There's a lot going on with me these days and so I don't know how much posting you'll see from me in the future. I say that as a warning that the following post is rather long and rambling but I was trying to hit a lot of points while I was at it. -Bball
Bball's Season Ending Post Mortem
It's hard to know where to start or what words to choose when it comes to Walsh leaving the franchise. The easiest thing to say is: It was time. Walsh was very good for this franchise when he came onboard over a generation ago. But a lot changed in all this time. For starters, the NBA changed and Indianapolis changed. The fanbase changed. Walsh didn't always appear to acknowledge those changes. 24 years is a long time. A person can get set in their ways... They can get a bad case of tunnel vision. They can lose sight of the forest for the trees. What this team needed in 1984 is not the same as what it needed in 2004. Then, with the franchise hitting some terrible low points, the organization was handcuffed with bad contracts and paralyzed with a strange management structure that we all called "The two-headed monster".
Now, I'm not going to come on here and declare Bird the savior or this reorganization of the hierarchy the perfect move. That, of course, is yet to be seen and the jury is still out. Bird could still prove to be an utter failure. The restructuring at the top could prove to be little more in the end than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But here's the thing: It's a real start. Whether the corner has been turned or not, at least now there's a sense that things will be different because the names have changed and there's a sense that roles have tightened behind the desks. But regardless, at least now there has been real change. How well it works is yet to be seen but to get to the next phase we needed to see some type of change take place. If we're trying to get from point A to point C, we needed to get to point B before it could happen. We might still find out we've taken the wrong fork in the road... but at least we didn't just sit there with the motor running deciding only not to decide which fork to take just yet.
I'm on record as saying the drawn out process of this handoff from Walsh to Bird ruined any chance of a honeymoon period for Bird. He's already taking some hits for moves that were percieved to have been his moves.... whether that is true, deserved, or not. Basically, he's starting this new phase with quite a bit of collected baggage. It is what it is. It might not even be a bad thing that he starts this on a seat that is already starting to warm into a hotseat. It shouldn't take years and years to prove whether he's up to the task and can operate without Walsh... or he himself was part of the problem we've just suffered through.
Notice I said "suffered", as in past tense. This season didn't end with the same weight and frustration as the last couple of seasons. It didn't end to a chorus of boos. I know the team didn't make the playoffs nor did they end with a shiny record. But they did end the season with several things that you have to think the team can build upon. Granger and Dunleavy both raised their games by leaps and bounds. Murphy seemed to reinvent himself as the season wore on. We have several players where no matter what else you an say, character just isn't an issue. It might take more than character to win big in the NBA, but without character you're not getting far anyway no matter the collected talent.
Diener brought a breath of fresh air to the PG position. I truly hope that the Tinsley era is over. No true break from the recent past can happen until the question marks surrounding him are just no longer an issue for the Pacers. Whether he's traded or rides the pine in a suit makes no difference because either way means the team isn't counting on him. Maybe it's my bias, but I have to feel there's more to his sitting than an alleged injury. The timing (soon after the Phoenix debacle), length of the sitting, and OBrien's end of season comments just seem to indicate there's more. But even if not, OBrien was pretty clear in saying Tinsley is not in the team's future plans.
The team actually came together as the season wound down. They showed heart and spirit. I don't care that they didn't make the playoffs, what was important was how hard they tried down the stretch. Maybe they learned something about themselves in that period? Had they made the playoffs, nobody could say they 'backed in'. They would've earned it with an excellent record over the last few weeks. And it's not just that they found a way to win, it's that they found a way to put themselves into position to win. Teams can lose and still show heart. The thing is... You play with effort and heart and eventually you find yourself winning.
I'm not sure I'm ready to praise OBrien as to 'bringing back Indiana basketball to the Pacers' as Herb Simon did, but I do have to credit him with allowing chemistry to develop among what became the core 7 or so players. We can debate whether he wasted some development time with some of the younger guys, but I don't think there's much disagreement that we did see real improvement with the core players.
Our defense pretty much was a disappointment. OBrien has said we just didn't have the horses to play his system. I'm not totally sold that the system couldn't have been tweaked or scrapped until we do have those horses... but if he has the total backing of management then I hope they stand behind him and get him the players he needs to strengthen his system. Sometimes you do have to make the point that the system is more important than any one player or players.
I'm not overly thrilled with what I saw of the offense many times. For all the times things seemed to be clicking, there were plenty where things just looked rushed. I don't know how many times we took a hurried shot during an important stretch where we really needed a solid possession. I can't really believe OBrien was any happier with many of those than I was but yet I didn't see the "What the hell was that?" from him you'd expect after a player made a bad decision (or several). Could it be he let the players play and dig their own grave to make a point? I suppose it is. I have to think back to the Phoenix game and Jamaal and how OBrien let that display continue. I, like many others, was disappointed that he didn't pull Tinsley and give him an earful. That wasn't "Indiana" basketball, that was selfish basketball. But a funny thing happened after that game. Tinsley faded to the bench after a couple more appearances (chances?) never to be seen in a Pacer uniform again this season. If you don't believe the injury excuse, then it is strong evidence that OBrien was coaching for the long term, not the short term.
If OBrien is trying to build confidence in the players and hoping they can learn from game experience what works and what doesn't with his system in real game situations then maybe the end of the season speaks volumes. In other words, maybe there was a method to the madness.
I'm not convinced OBrien is the ultimate answer, but we could do worse in this transition period. These are mostly players that probably need confidence more than anything.
Jermaine ONeal- What's left to be said? Every preseason report will start "If Jermaine can remain healthy...". Past history says "He can't".
I doubt there's much chance of him being traded at this point. I have a feeling that had the front office been a little leaner and a little meaner, he would've already been traded long before we got to this point. But with the two-headed monster in place I just don't think a decision of that magnitude was going to happen. Too many "What ifs" for the two-headed monster to make a decisive move. At this point, his trade value is probably at an all time low anyway. He looked much older than his 29 yrs when he played and he again missed a significant portion of the season. His value goes up from here just because of his expiring contract in a couple of years... and maybe he has some kind of resurgance next season and ups his value that way.
Actually, maybe this injury history will force JO to rethink his game and role on the team and play a more veteran savvy type of game. Certainly I hope it forces TPTB to rethink his role. He's not going to be the 'go to' guy again... and probably never should've been thrust into that role in the first place. That experiment went on too long and became a chemistry killer on a team with questionable chemistry anyway.
I think the team has accepted that reality and I hope they keep up the limited minutes to some degree. There's no good reason to run JO into the ground. The question is whether JO has accepted this. If he can accept it, then we might not want to trade him afterall. JO can offer a lot as long as he (and the franchise) acknowledge his limitations and just what is needed from him.
This summer should be interesting but maybe not the wheeling and dealing that some expect. I'm not sure we can expect big wholesale moves unless someone dangles something unbelievable in front of the team.
There needs to be a starting quality PG that OBrien can work with and we need a player who can backup JO well enough to step into his starting role should JO go down with injury again. If TPTB neglect either of these issues I don't think it will be good for team morale. You have to give the players that are here a sense you are working as hard as they are to help them be competitive. These moves also need addressed for PR reasons. If they want to keep reconnecting with the fans, then TPTB need to build on the momentum they've created with the reorganization at the top as well as the resurgence of winning to wind up the season. You have to continually look to energize the fanbase, not always look to find an excuse to stand pat.
Winning back fans: I think this season went a long way toward that. It might not show in the seats just yet but I do think rock bottom has already been hit. As long as the players give us more of what we saw to end the season, and no more of the "Phoenix game"... or any more shoot 'em ups... or strip club incidents... or hanging out with Charlie Manson... or ... well you get the idea! ....It shouldn't be THAT hard for a team to keep their noses clean. ESPECIALLY during the season where dedicated professionals shouldn't have that much time available to find trouble anyway. That they do would only make me question their dedication to the team and their sport.
I think the reduced seat prices and freebie tix are a great idea. I also think offering the freebies directly from the Pacer organization to fans rather than trying to seed tix to others (radio, tv for example) as giveaways (where they might simply end up with tickets going unused) is the proper way to go. If you're going to comp tix, comp them to people who will go to the game. That said, I think the franchise needs to find a way to make sure the season ticket holders don't feel cheated while the general public is getting these 'bargains'. I think a simple answer there is to offer 'seat upgrades' to selected games for season/pkg ticket holders when the general public is being offered reduced rates. The team needs to keep up these good will gestures to restrengthen their ties to the community.
By the same token, the TV deal needs reconsidered. There were too many untelevised games this season (they ALL should be televised in the local market IMHO) and I'm not sure the exclusive Fox Sports cable deal is really in the best longterm interests of the team. At least in regards to connecting with the fanbase. Some over the air offerings still should be considered. I'm also not sure that the 'temporary' nature of FoxSports Indiana (at least on Directv) helps. Maybe if FSIN was a 24hr sports channel with some 'local' sports shows thrown in (how about a Pacers Weekly Report for example?) along with some national offerings I'd feel differently. But there's not much chance of building brand loyalty with a channel that doesn't even broadcast for most of the hours in a week.
EDIT- Also on the subject of televison- I don't think the Fox Sports "Rock Concert" ad where Foster, Granger, and JO rise through the basketball floor (which is doubling as a stage) is the right message for the Pacers (especially at this time anyway). The soundtrack is fine but the image is all wrong. I ASSUME this is a canned ad that is the same for all NBA teams on FSN but I don't know (any League Pass people to confirm this one way or the other?). Instead of comparing them with rock stars, let's show them taking charges, making putbacks, rejecting shots, stealing the ball, knocking down a dagger, and mix in some shots of them interacting with the community. We don't need to see the team as pampered rock stars, we need to see them as hard working, blue collar types doing the dirty work on the court and connecting with the community. (IMHO)
If JO is playing on a knee that still is requiring rehab and limited minutes, why on Earth do you have him jump center to start the game?
I don't know what it is but Shawne Williams' play on the court this season would make my decision on what to do about his 'play' off the court pretty easy. I thought Shawne's play regressed this year... although I realize he had his moments. Still, he looked lost and lethargic many times. And his decision making OFF the court would lead me to dangle him on the trading block. I realize why some might want to give him more time... But one of the problems of the past of this franchise is offering too many chances and waiting too long.
I hope the Pacers can find a way under Bird to end the overpaying and limiting of options that have plagued the team these past few years. Other teams find ways to do it... why can't we?
I'm not much for stockpiling players that you aren't going to use or develop. Maybe you do it when you're a playoff contender (to see what develops), but when you're staring up at the 8th seed you should look to trade some quantity for a position of need... or develop it off the bench. IOW- It does no good (IMHO) to have a Diogu sitting in the doghouse season after season while his trade value and label of 'potential' declines.
We might not be over the hump just yet... but this offseason doesn't feel as heavy as the last couple of offseasons. There's actually some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.