Well, it's been a long season. But for the first time in a while, it's ultimately been an enjoyable season. Maybe if you were expecting playoffs then you're disappointed but I think the playoffs were an unrealistic goal to begin. Sure, the East is bad enough we had a chance to make the playoffs, but why? The season (for me) was more about seeing some individual and team growth. In the past we've had some players who weren't interested in being the best team player they could be.
This season sure looked like a group of coachable players who had an idea that their best chance of winning was as a team.
I don't necessarily think wholesale changes are needed on the player front. Obviously, some things are going to happen naturally anyway. I hope we can finally move/buyout Tinsley just to keep that potential distraction from popping up. I think Dun's injury has been a blessing in disguise because it opened the door for Brandon Rush. I don't think our improved record and better defense can be explained many other ways than by what these guys brought to the starting lineup. Personally, I think they deserved more minutes sooner.
Marquis' injury was also a blessing in disguise because I think it makes the decision to not pick up his option not only likely but and easy and prudent decision. With Rush coming into his own and a potential Dunleavy return, I'm fine with keeping Graham around unless a 'can't pass' guy falls into our lap. I think Graham offers us consistency with the lineup and I think that (consistency... an extra year together in the system....) will be a major factor for next season.
Unlike some of you, I applaud Troy Murphy. Not only do I think he was doing what the coach wanted but he was doing it with a tremendous amount of heart and passion. Sure, he has his limitations (see: defense), but I cannot fault his effort. I think he played his heart out every minute he was on the floor. That is contagious for the other players.
Hibbert is a player who occasionally showed real flashes that he has a potential long and positive future as the Pacers starting center. He has his limitations as well, but I think questions about his quickness (or lack thereof) were overblown. Ultimately, it's going to be a combination of his smarts and figuring out how to use his size in the NBA as well as the officials not giving him the quick whistle and no benefit of the doubt. One helps feed the other. And going a long way in all of that I think is the need to get a big man coach for him.
Jarret Jack is a player I'd like to see return although I wouldn't give him the franchise to keep him. I agree with Peck that Jack got too many minutes. I think Diener deserved more minutes than he got. You'd think somewhere in there is a happy medium. For all the talk about Diener's defensive liabilities, the team on the court in the 4th qtr (with Diener and Jack) actually played some pretty good defense in the final game.
That brings us to Josh McRoberts. I think McRoberts should be a keeper as long as his salary demands are reasonable. I think he should've gotten more minutes this season. He's an energy guy and brings hustle to the floor... and he can bring offense as well as defense. Let him play the energizer bunny role and come in and disrupt the other team when a burst of energy or change of pace is needed. I think the way his minutes were doled out this year were a little unfair because I think he entered the games he did with the idea he had to try a little too hard. I think that burned him the one game where he must've set a record for fouls.... And I think at least a couple of those fouls were questionable and the whole thing snow-balled to a point O'Brien sent him to the end of the pine for a little too long. If anything, I think he needed to be put back on the horse that threw him and gotten into the next game for some controlled minutes. I see McRoberts as a potential successor to Foster with a much higher ceiling. That doesn't mean I think he should get Foster-sized minutes... I think Foster has historically gotten too many minutes and has been too much of a Pacers safety blanket.
I'm not as down on Ford as some of you are. He's not perfect and he does some frustrating things, but he also does some good things. I expected more from his defense due to his quickness but I think another season with the team and our game will help him. He may never be Mark Jackson but he's not Travis Best either... although he's obviously more Travis than Mark. And he's way more consistent than Tinsley and consistency is important in a PG. And (so far) he has all the appearances of being more of a team player and particularly more of a coachable player than Tinsley.
Granger probably had one of the best regular seasons as a player that the NBA Pacers have seen. We pretty much saw everything with Granger this season. Offensive growth, an All-star nod, leadership, 4th quarter growth, a better understanding of the game and the players around him, timely defense, etc.. He even quieted Robertmto's early season complaints that he wasn't a 4th qtr player
Granger grew into his leadership role and appears to have the respect of his teammates and TPTB. That's not something that can be said of JO. I suspect that is not all due to the things we see and know about. I think dedication to the game, practice, etc are factors in that.
I'm not the biggest Jim O'Brien fan because quite frankly, I can't figure out what he really wants. Maybe, just maybe, he's building a system and allowing some things to happen for player growth. Maybe the 3rd year is when he says: "OK, you guys can shoot the ball. You know how to score and you know what each other offensive abilities are. Now, let's play some defense and make that the final piece of the puzzle and not only make the playoffs but win in the playoffs"
...A guy can dream can't he?
But I have to give him credit for getting this team to play HARD. Nearly every game he had them playing with effort and passion. Maybe some of that is simply having players who aren't lazy in the first place and maybe that is contagious. In any case, it's been a while since we've seen that as a whole and it's good to see. It's one of the things that has me so positive about the future. Even when the team got down, they tended to make a run and not let anyone walk over them. That is another sign of heart. It also might be a sign our talent isn't as lacking as some are making it out to be. We might not be so far off afterall. I have to wonder if internally the team and O'Brien have a different set of goals than we've been privy to. That may be why he's able to keep the team playing hard because they know the bigger picture even if it isn't being advertised to the masses for PR reasons.
I still don't think I'd pick up his option. Let's see what the plan is for next year and how it pans out. I don't particularly think he's a lame duck coach since the team does have that option in their pocket. Plus, if the team really does like playing for him they can rally around him and win for him.
The other thing that gives me hope is that Donnie Walsh is gone. That is something that had to happen and IMHO it was way overdue. The team and fans needed some real changes in the team. Not tweaks. We all needed to see some light at the end of the tunnel and meaningful changes. Bird and Morway managed to change the culture of this team in a rather short amount of time after Walsh was gone. I don't think that was mere coincidence. Also, I know Bird got the blame for S. Williams but Williams sure looked like a Walsh kind of pick... A young player, a tweener (SF/PF), with the 'potential' tag on him. And therein lies a problem.... the team was going nowhere and in need of change (even some change for change's sake) but as long as Walsh/Bird/Morway were all here who is to say who did what moves with the team? Having a management team, especially one of questionable matching goals, tends to be a bit paralyzing anyway (in any endeavor). Then factor in Walsh, a historically slow mover, having final say and I think it's clear why he had to go. He was running the franchise into the ground and keeping his head too far in the sand.
Now we know where the blame lies if things come crashing down. No Teflon Don or Loony Larry to choose from.
So, to sum it all up.... I couldn't be happier with how this season has played out. The playoffs mean nothing to me until I believe the team is ready. I really think next year the team will be ready. We're going to get a draft pick to play with... we've got some assets we could potentially utilize and we will more than likely have some consistency next season no matter what with our core. And this coming season, having consistency with the core is a good thing... it means we're keeping players who understand team basketball and appear to have pride in their Pacers' jersey. And maybe... maybe... there is a plan with what O'Brien has been building toward.
I'm not a guy who has to have a winning record to be satisfied every year, but I have to see a team making progress and getting closer to an ultimate goal of getting a championship. A team that is never satisfied, from the end of the bench, to management, to ownership. Moral victories are something to be found in your career retrospective, not in the season. I want a team on the floor that plays the right way.... and a management team that wants to use that effort and desire, that "playing the right way", to ultimately construct a championship team.
Right now I feel awfully good about the future of this team. I offer my thanks to the current players and management for what appears to be the first step in righting this ship and turning away from the iceberg.... not just rearranging the deck chairs.