Pacers will look for leadership from T.J. Ford
By Mike Wells
T.J. Ford lives for the postseason.
He lives for the national television exposure, the hope of winning an NBA title and having 14 other teams sitting on their couches, eating popcorn, watching him play.
Ford wants those same things to happen with the Indiana Pacers.
"I'm familiar with that playoff taste and I'm not ready to give that taste up," said Ford, who has been to the playoffs in three of his four NBA seasons. "That's the challenge and the goal, to show people we are contenders in the East."
Ford, along with Jarrett Jack, Josh McRoberts and Maceo Baston, were introduced at a news conference Wednesday at Conseco Fieldhouse. Each was acquired in a trade last month.
To return to the playoffs (they've missed the past two), the Pacers are putting the ball -- and some of the necessary leadership -- into the hands of their new playmaker. They hope he brings stability to a position that has been basically a revolving door the past few years.
"These guys' ability to impact the culture of our team is significant," said Pacers coach Jim O'Brien, who was adamant in saying his team needed to address the point guard position. "All their personalities are going to have a great chance to change the culture, and it starts frankly at the point guard spot."
As much as fans believe that Ford, who has started 222 of the 253 games in which he has appeared, is going to be the Pacers' savior, they also wave warning flags about his durability -- something that hampered his predecessor, Jamaal Tinsley.
Ford (6-0, 165) missed the entire 2004-05 season with Milwaukee after suffering a bruised spinal cord during the 2003-04 season. He missed time last season in Toronto after he struck his head on the floor following a foul by Atlanta's Al Horford.
The Pacers have two capable backups in Jack and Travis Diener, but the team is optimistic Ford, who has averaged 63 games a season, will remain healthy.
"I think that comes with my injury (in 2004)," Ford said. "I think a lot of people are wondering if I take a hard fall whether I'm going to get up or not. I think the staff we have here, the things they discussed with me, that can help my situation better than what it is. I think I'll be durable throughout the season."
Don't expect Ford to apologize for being assertive, either.
He still plans to use his speed to aggressively attack the basket -- no matter how big or strong the defender -- and take the "hits" and "bumps," knowing he has to "live with whatever happens on the court."
"T.J. is going to do a tremendous job of pushing me in practice," Jack said, "guarding somebody that is probably the quickest, fastest, whatever you want to call it, guard in the league. I don't know anybody that can't benefit from that."
Ford hasn't put up huge numbers in his career -- 11.6 points, 6.9 assists and 1.3 steals -- and his 3-point shooting (31 percent) won't cause opponents to quiver. O'Brien expects him to be an extended coach and direct a defense O'Brien described Wednesday as "horrible" last season.
"Both (Ford and Jack) said separately, 'You have no worries about my ability to communicate loudly what needs to be done on the basketball court, in practice and in the games,' " O'Brien said. "Frankly that's what every coach looks for. I think last year, guys got tired of listening to my voice because we had a weakness that people on our team did not want to own their own team. I think . . . they understand that a good team is one that is owned by the players."