Former Pacers coach Leonard expected to coach
4:57 PM CDT, October 7, 2008
INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Pacers will have a new head coach -- at least briefly -- when they host New Orleans in their preseason opener Wednesday night.
Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said he'll spend the first quarter helping on the radio broadcast, while former Indiana coach and current radio commentator Bobby "Slick" Leonard handles his duties from the bench.
The switch was O'Brien's idea to show Leonard "how much we appreciate everything he's done for the organization." Leonard became the Pacers' coach in 1969, leading them to three American Basketball Association championships before the league merged with the NBA.
The game is being played at the Pepsi Coliseum in Indianapolis, home to the Pacers from 1967 to 1974.
"I thought it would be great to have him coach the team and go back to the old days," said O'Brien, who added that everything was approved by the NBA. "We'll have a big lead going into the second quarter and I'll go from there."
Pacers swingman Danny Granger expects the crowd to enjoy Leonard's coaching appearance.
"The fans might really get a kick out of seeing Slick on the sidelines again," Granger said. "He was a coach, so he definitely has a basketball mind. It's way back in the day, but he still knows a lot about the game."
If Leonard wants to draw up plays on napkins, like he used to during his coaching career, O'Brien said the team would accommodate him.
"If that's what he's comfortable with, we will have them out there," joked O'Brien.
Joking aside, every preseason game is crucial for the Pacers, who have nine new players in training camp.
"When you have this many new guys, and you're changing things around, it's important for everybody to learn how to play basketball with each other," said Indiana center Jeff Foster, who returns for his 10th season with the team.
O'Brien plans to switch around his starting lineup through the first four preseason games. He said Wednesday's starters will be guards T.J. Ford and Marquis Daniels, forwards Granger and Austin Croshere, and center Rasho Nesterovic.
Guard Mike Dunleavy (sore knee) and forward Troy Murphy (sore foot), both expected to start in the regular season, will not play against New Orleans, O'Brien said. Reserve point guard Travis Diener (sore foot) also won't play.
"I want to see different combinations of guys when they start, and coming off the bench," O'Brien said. "We don't have a set lineup right now, clearly, because we have some key guys that are out."
Pacers point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who hasn't been at training camp, will not play on Wednesday as the team tries to trade him.
Even though exhibition games don't count toward the regular-season record, O'Brien believes it's important to start building a winning atmosphere.
"When we keep score, we want to win," he said. "Whatever we're doing from a standpoint of developing young guys, and seeing where we are offensively and defensively, we still want to be on the positive side of the ledger at the end."