Hello everyone....it's glad to be back posting again after a brief hiatus.
With everyone mostly feeling somewhat positive about our franchise and its end of the season success, it is apparent to me that the intoxicating aroma of a season without off court strife has dulled our collective senses just a bit. While I loved Conrad Brunner's line about this season feeling like just a beginning, it is also important to note that the road to misery was paved with good intentions.
Clearly a direction is in place, and the team has shown grit and character. We have ended the era of selfishness, and exchanged it for a team of guys with class and work ethic. Our ownership is more in tune with our fan base than it perhaps ever has been, our management group led by Jim Morris has made long term progress on behalf of the franchise with the city and in its marketing to fans, and clearly our leaders seem to "get it" in terms of the kind of team we as fans will embrace on the whole.
Larry Bird continues his life long strength of being a good judge of character, Jim O'Brien has brought a professionalism and "adultness" to how our team plays and behaves, and together they have began to try and build a team that plays in a winning way, step by step.
All of that is great, but let us not let the era of good feelings blind us from the fact that we are still a below average team in terms of actual results. John Wooden famously said "do not let activity be confused with achievement." We have been active, but we have yet to really achieve anything yet other than mediocrity, and sometimes I think that too many of us Pacers fans don't hold our teams to a high enough standard. It is just as important I feel for us fans to not be satisfied as it is for the Pacers ownership and management to not feel that way. Our feelings and standards are as important if not more so.
So, before I being my draft analysis in depth in a month or so, I think it is important to delve into the big questions that linger about our team and discuss them intelligently. I'll try to tackle mostly on court issues, although I reserve the right to go into the business side at least once among these threads.
The big issue I want to discuss first is our point guard situation.
THE BIG QUESTION: WHAT TO DO WITH JARRETT JACK AND TJ FORD?
It seems to me that we have several options. We could:
A. Re-sign Jack, keep TJ Ford, and play next season similar to how we did this season.
B. Re-sign Jack, trade TJ Ford for another asset, and draft a point guard to replace him to share back up duties with Deiner.
C. Let Jack go, go back to starting TJ Ford, and draft a point guard to replace Jack and share backup duties with Deiner or sign a cheaper free agent.
D. Sign Jack to a sign and trade deal, and exchange him for another piece of the puzzle.
E. Get rid of them both and go after another player to play the point that we consider an upgrade to both of them, and draft a backup point guard to go along with Deiner.
General consensus among this board and in my Pacer loving friends is that everyone says we must re-sign Jack. People like his fire, his toughness, his size, his scoring ability, and his ability to play both guard spots. I know no one in my life who is in favor of not having Jack on next year's team, and it is possible that in your everyday lives that you don't either.
But you can change all of that, because now you CAN say you know of someone who recommends not re-signing Jarrett Jack, and that would be me! Let me discuss the reasons why:
1. I think it is reasonable for Jarrett Jack to want to be a starter in this league, and that I imagine will be a priority for him as he looks for a place to sign. There is no reason that he will even WANT to resign here unless he is assured of a starting role. Conversely, there is no way we can make a move with TJ Ford unless we for sure will sign Jarrett Jack back, so you have a mexican standoff situation that could drag on all summer. I do not want that type of indecision, it hampers your ability to make other improvements. Larry Bird is so much more decisive than our past regime, and that is a trait I personally usually like. I doubt he will want to play a waiting game all summer waiting on Jack to do something.
2. We can't afford to spend 16 million year on average for one position on the floor, so either Ford or Jack has to go.
3. I think TJ Ford is a better potential player for us long term than Jarrett Jack. He has more upside for the future, and while I have been extremely disappointed in his defensive play at the point guard spot, I have finally decided that is more a product of the system and style Coach O'Brien was using than his true defensive ability.
Basically, I think that Ford MIGHT be a better defender than Jack currently is now, although I admit that is far from assured. In fact, that defensive question about our point guard is the single biggest mystery I have about this team....I thought Ford was average at best defensively for us, and sometimes he was worse than that. I think that was due to how he was coached and asked to play, but I clearly could be wrong....I'm making an educated guess that Ford at least is capable of playing quality pressuring point guard defense, where I don't think Jack has the physical attributes to ever do so.
4. To justify keeping both of these players, you probably need to decide that you can win big with both of them playing at the same time. Jim O'Brien clearly likes playing small like that from a theoretical point of view anyway.
But I don't think that is a winning combination, and my reading of the tea leaves is that Larry Bird doesn't either. Everything I believe about Larry Bird is that he values "positional purity"....he likes guys who fit the basic traditional way to play. Jack is a "tweener" that can be very effective in a role like that, playing a little at each backcourt spot. But I don't think Bird values that very much, and in this case I am in total agreement with that way of thinking.
By not giving his coach that luxury of playing small, Larry Bird can softly micromanage Jim O'Brien into playing a more traditional defensive lineup.
So, in my mind that eliminates the "A" and "B" options I listed above.
But I am not crazy about option "C" either, which is to just let Jack go for nothing. I bet you that David Morway is putting possibilities together as we speak for ways to get some sort of compensation for Jack in a sign and trade in my scenario "D".
To simply let Jack go as a free agent is unlikely I feel. With the NBA overall finances struggling, and with teams looking to keep as much payroll flexibility as possible, I am guessing there will be few outright free agent signings this summer. By agreeing to a sign and trade, teams can pick up Jack and balance it out somewhat by trading a contract back to Indiana. The Pacers have some leverage in this of course in that they theoretically could match an offer sheet, so another team that would want Jack has motivation to play ball with us.
And Jarrett Jack himself along with his representation should want to cooperate as well, as the teams who actually have cap room above the MLE this year are very few. Jack can expand the list of teams he can sign with by agreeing to and in fact encouraging a sign and trade scenario.
Now, if we do what I am recommending here for real, this can't be a scenario where we get stuck with a useless trade exception or a poo poo platter like Scott Pollard, when we played sign and trade roulette the last couple of times. We would need to get a productive player back of some kind, or a future piece, an expiring contract we can use, or a 2010 draft pick, or some combination of the above.
There are teams out there who make sense to deal with in a Jarrett Jack sign and trade scenario. Jack makes sense for Charlotte if they deem Raymond Felton to be too expensive, or for Philadelphia if they let Andre Miller go. A trade with Phily bringing back Marreese Speights and Reggie Evans in some form seems both possible and positive for both teams. Jack would make sense as a starter in several other cities as well, or if he really expanded his sights he could go somewhere like Pheonix or San Antonio, where he could come off the bench for a better team than we are.
Ordinarily, I might agree that my "option E" makes sense. I love Raymond Felton for example, and feel after playing a year for Larry Brown that he is poised for a huge year next year in the right situation. He is the right age, has the right type of size and skill set, and would be in fact the type of upgrade I am speaking of at this critical point guard position.
But I also am leery of too much change for the second straight off season. I value continuity from a basketball purist standpoint and from the view of the actual casual fan. I think keeping at least one of the point guards is the right move for now. Since I have personally came to the conclusion that TJ Ford will be better next year defensively and more comfortable in our motion offenive style, I am fine with making the case that keeping Ford is the right thing to do.
It does bear mentioning that in the "tryout" that we gave Jack as a point guard coming down the stretch, that Ford could have caused trouble, could have pouted and sulked, but didn't. That shows a growth in maturity than I am wasn't sure he had in him, and it impressed me. It also is key to note that Ford is a player who can score in end of game situations because he can get his own shot, a thing most of our roster struggles with.
Now, all Ford must do to prove me right in 2009-2010 is to be used more strategically well defensively, and to put much more effort into not being the turnstile that he turned into at times this last season. I have to believe that his skill set and athleticism to move his feet better side to side is there, he simply is too quick otherwise for it not to be. My analysis of him is that our team defensive concept was so convoluted at times that he was thinking defensively instead of attacking like I want a ball hawking, harrassing point guard to do.
So with all that being said, I am endorsing hesitantly the idea of bringing Ford back as a starting point guard, and letting Jack move on, preferably in a sign and trade.
But no matter where you come down on the great Ford vs Jack debate of the 2009 spring, I think it is clear that the Pacers front office has to resolve this issue first before doing anything else this offseason. With the dire need of improving our front court, and with the cold hard truth being we have so much dead money invested in Dunleavy and Tinsley, I see no way it makes sense to bring back a good but replaceble combination guard who in my view is not nearly the player and point guard my friends and fellow Pacer fans think him to be.
Time will tell if I am correct in my analysis about the direction the Pacers go in regards to their point guard position.
As always, the above is just my opinion.