Good afternoon, and Happy 4th of July to you all!
Today I want to write about our Pacers new direction, and some potential problems and conflicts that are looming on the horizon I believe between our Pacers front office and our current head coach. Looking closely, I can see storm clouds starting to gather.....particularly when you look at the specifics of the draft moves we made on June 26th.
The debate will rage on forever in the minds of Pacer fans whether trading Jerryd Bayless for the package including Brandon Rush and Jarrett Jack was a wise course of action or not. Some say it was a bad idea to pass on a player with the potential all star abilities of Bayless to instead take the "safer" pick of Brandon Rush, a player who is likely more mature and ready to play from "day one", as a certain ex Presidential candidate was fond of saying. Others believe that the Pacers made the right choice, taking a player that more closely resembles a more traditional player to fit a specific role....a player easier to "fit" into an entire team structure of play. In effect taking a player very sure to be "good" over a player with a 50/50 chance of being great or a bust. Arguments can be made either way, and in reality there is no right or wrong answer......it simply depends on too many other factors yet to be determined.
In selecting Rush, the Pacers selected a player who I projected in my draft profile of him to be a likely all first team NBA rookie team player next year. Rush has excellent specific skills, appropriate size for his position, and seems like a man very ready emotionally and maturity wise for his leap into the NBA. Most people agree with that analysis, as Rush was a popular player before the draft among many NBA analysts as a draftee likely to help his team immediately next season.
In Rush, the Pacers took a player to pair along with Roy Hibbert whom they drafted at #17. Hibbert and Rush were in many ways made to play with each other. Hibbert, and excellent passer and very good screener, playing with Rush, a fine player coming off screens who can catch and shoot as well as any player available. Defensively, Hibbert can hold his own inside with his great size and strength, and Rush's awesome lateral quickness and defensive skill one on one will somewhat eliminate the need for Hibbert to be asked to help as much on the perimeter. These 2 players GO TOGETHER well, and it is clear that Larry Bird recognized that, and orchestrated his draft night and overall offseason plan to find players who both "fit" and "compliment" the long term vision and roster plan he has for our franchise. Rightly or wrongly, the Pacers front office can no longer be accused of not having a clear plan or direction. By selecting these 2 specific players to fill the roles they seemed destined to fill, the Pacers seem to clearly be building a more defensive oriented, half court playing, "set position" roster. Players who are "athletic" hybrids who can play multiple positions and do a variety of things seem to be now a thing of the past, having been taking out of Conseco Fieldhouse with the moving vans that escorted Donnie Walsh out of the building.
However, I also wrote in my draft thread about Brandon Rush that, as high on him as I was and as potentially good as I thought he might become, that he was a bad fit for our team because I didnt think he was a good fir for the offensive system that Jim O'Brien runs. Because of that, I was fairly certain that the Pacers should and would pass on Rush on draft night. I was wrong about the Pacers not selecting Rush, but I don't think I was wrong about him not really having the type of skill set that Jim O'Brien could use in the most efficient way. I am positive that Larry Bird knows that a "catch and shoot", fine individual defender in Rush, and a slower center who isn't a great offensive post up threat to score in Hibbert, isnt exactly the prototype Jim O'Brien has in mind for those positions in his system, yet he chose them anyway. What does that tell us?
I think the moves we are making since Larry Bird officially took over can tell us many things, some obvious and some not, about where this franchise has been in the past, and where it is going in the future. Trying to be a fortune teller for the next few years, and trying to recreate past events with a lack of information are both difficult tasks, but I think if we read between the lines we can logically come up with a list of conclusions:
1. I no longer believe SHAWNE WILLIAMS was truly Larry Bird's guy in the draft a few years ago.....that move has Donnie Walsh written all over it. Bird seems to value guys who are mature, established in their positions, who can help right away. Williams was the exact opposite of that prototype. However, he fits the Walsh type of player, (especially as Donnie grew older) a player who can play multiple spots with a large amount of "upside". Bird was forced to explain that pick on national TV, and to our fanbase, but my thought is looking back he did as he was told to do and nothing else.
2. We were told that Larry Bird hand picked Jim O'Brien as our coach last year after only discussing it on the TELEPHONE. Everyone one of us bought that story hook, line, and sinker.....but does it really make sense now that it happened that way? Larry Bird has a vision of building an old fashioned team in a conventional way, and yet hires a very unconventional coach with some radical ideas of how to play offense? In his first draft, Bird selects 2 players who seem to be fine prospects and ready made to help immediately, except he takes guys who really don't fit the way this coach plays the game from a strategic standpoint? That doesnt make sense to me either.
I think it might be more likely that Walsh wanted Jim O'Brien, and either forced Larry to hire him or talked him into it gently. Perhaps the phone call between Bird and O'Brien that led to his hiring was more of Bird just getting to know him a little, before throwing his hands up and telling Donnie that he'd go along with his wishes one more time. Remember, Walsh is the same guy who made unconventional coaching hires in the past quite often.....Dick Versace, George Irvine, Bob Hill, an older Jack Ramsey, the risky Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas.....even Larry Bird himself at one time.
3. Bringing back Al Harrington. We were told at the time that Bird wanted Harrington back to pair with Jermaine O'Neal. Does it sound like a Lary Bird move to you in retrospect? Bringing back an undersized "hybrid" forward with a questionable attitude but lots of skill.......doesn't that sound more like Donnie Walsh, especially when you look back at it through the lens of history?
Ok, so now here we are, in the summer of 2008. The Pacers have a vision, and a clear idea and plan moving forward. The Pacer franchise all seems to be singing from the same songsheet in their public pronouncements.....but does it make sense in reality, espcially when it comes to Jim O'Brien? What does this mean for the future?
Look at it logically:
1. Rush is a superior shooter coming off screens along the baseline, and Hibbert was one of the best screen setters in the draft. But, our head coach prefers spacing and one on one play off the dribble instead of setting multiple screens for shooters.
2. Our head coach likes a 4 out 1 in system for offense, which requires players who can play multiple positions and also requires a true low post scorer. Yet, the Pacers pass on a multiple position "hybrid" guard in Bayless. The Pacers pick a slower "true center" in Hibbert whose strength as a player is not being a legitimate post scorer, and pass on picking a kid like Darrell Arthur, who could be a perfect "3/4" combination forward in the O'Brien scheme.
3. Our head coach has a defensive scheme that requires his "bigs" to be mobile in hedging screen/roll situations and to rotate more than most teams demand, requiring quickness and flexibility. Instead, we draft Roy Hibbert, who will be a fine NBA center but certainly doesn't have those particular skills.
In summary, Bird has acquired players who compliment each other perfectly (Ford/Jack and Rush/Hibbert), but who do not fit in with the coaching strengths of Jim O'Brien, at least as I see it now. All this talk about everybody being on the same page left out one ingredient: the actual head coach!
So far, Jim O'Brien has by all counts played the good soldier, and I assume that he will continue to do so. But his bosses have made it clear that these players are all expected to help immediately this season, in spite of the fact that they don't "fit in" as well as everyone has been led to believe. Combine that with the fact that Jerryd Bayless fell into an IDEAL spot for his talents in Portland, and the pressure on Jim O'Brien to succeed immediately will be ramped up to almost impossible levels come December 2008.
The problem for us is that Jim O'Brien has never shown any ability to adapt his style at all. He is a "true believer" in what he is teaching, and would likely play the same way regardless of the personnel he has. That stubbornness and dogged confidence to teach the game as he sees it purely is both his strength and weakness as an NBA coach.
Like every rebuilding job, there is often some snags along the way. I think it is obvious that our head coach and our front office do not see the game and building a team the same way, regardless of any public pronouncements to the contrary. A big question mark in all of this is will the Simons allow Bird to fire O'Brien, considering he is owed quite a bit of cash, if we get off to a slow start? If not, there will likely be a lot of drama still going on in downtown Indianapolis this winter, and the summertime optimism we all feel right now will be down the drain, lost to competing and contradicting visions of the game by 2 head strong men.
I see no way this ends well for Jim O'Brien's tenure as head coach.....the only question is how it all plays out leading up to his ouster, which is sure to happen now I believe. The question only is : "What will the lack of cohesion between our coaching staff and front office cost us as fans and as a franchise?"
It is this disconnect I see that has the storm clouds looming this season, and has me worried that next few months arent going to be as positive and productive as we all hope.
As always, the above is just my opinion.