OK, Larry Bird.
Your mess, your time to clean it up.
Everybody knows Bird, the Indiana Pacers president, has absolutely no desire to leave his office and coach the motley collection of talent he has cobbled together for this lost 2009-10 season. But he has no real choice, not as his team continues to circle the drain, losing by 20 points, playing with neither pride nor passion.
Tuesday night against Orlando? Yes, an astonishing aberration, a 97-90 victory that came out of nowhere. A career night for Roy Hibbert, who outplayed All-Star Dwight Howard. A solid two-way effort x from Brandon Rush. A glimpse into what-might-be if only the Pacers came to play every night, as opposed to once every five games.
It changes nothing.
Bird needs to fire coach Jim O'Brien now -- even though, truth be told, this isn't completely O'Brien's fault.
Bird needs to install himself as the coach.
His mess, his cleanup.
Larry, bring your ShamWow and some extra bleach. This isn't going to be pleasant.
What are the alternatives? Owner Herb Simon isn't going to let Bird punt O'Brien, who has another year on his contract, and then hire another coach for big bucks. There's nobody on the coaching staff who is viewed as a workable long-term replacement. And staying with O'Brien now isn't -- or shouldn't -- be an option, not with this team mailing it in eight nights out of 10.
Maybe it's a cosmetic change, maybe it qualifies as change-for-change's-sake, but something has to be done as this lost season slides into irrelevance.
This team already has lost by double digits as often as it did all of last season. A 43-point loss at New York? Unforgivable. I don't care if you're undermanned and fatigued. Still, unforgivable.
Let's see if Larry Legend can inspire Rush to do every night what he did Tuesday night. Let's see if Bird can bring T.J. Ford back from the emotional dead after a second straight season of losing his starting job. Let's see if he can continue to feed Hibbert, who has too often gotten lost in O'Brien's up-tempo offense.
Let's not hear about Danny Granger's injury, how Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster have been in and out of the lineup, how Mike Dunleavy has struggled to return to form.
The fact is, the Pacers were 6-12 and strangely listless even when Granger was in the lineup. The eyes don't lie: The Pacers aren't playing with one-third of the energy and passion they displayed the previous two seasons.
Two weeks ago, Bird said O'Brien was going nowhere and if changes were necessary, he would send away his underachieving players -- which would leave him with a roster of, oh, three guys.
While that sounds good -- see, Larry is holding the players accountable instead of pulling the plug on the coach!! -- it's unrealistic. You can punt the coach; you can't punt the players.
Trade them away? Who wants them? Who wants Ford and the $17.million he's owed the next two years? Who wants Dunleavy's knees? Who wants anybody not named Granger?
At least by shaking things up and making a change, Bird removes O'Brien as an excuse to underachieve.
Ultimately, I don't know if this team will suddenly find religion and start playing with purpose if Bird takes over, but something has to be done. Because if not, all you're doing it taking the fans' money and entering the John Wall Sweepstakes.
O'Brien walked into an impossible situation -- think Orlando's Stan Van Gundy made the right call when he turned down the Pacers' job? -- and Bird inherited a dysfunctional mess.
He inherited a bad situation and did a good job jettisoning Jermaine O'Neal's contract. But there have been too many mistakes during the rebuilding process, too many errors for Simon to ignore as he contemplates Bird's future at season's end.
The David Harrison selection. The Sarunas Jasikevicius signing. The Travis Diener signing. The empty draft featuring Shawne Williams and James White. The decision to draft Rush. The choice to let Jarrett Jack walk. And so on.
The long-term plan makes sense: Develop young players and then surround them with expensive free agents in the summer of 2011. Except those young players aren't growing as they should. So either Bird hasn't selected the right players, or his coach hasn't done the job developing them -- which is why the guy who bought the groceries needs to cook the meal.
If Bird can't turn Rush and Hibbert and the others into players, then it can be concluded that Bird missed on those picks, and he's not the executive you want making the big decisions in the future.
Tuesday night was fun, an undermanned team overachieving against long odds, holding the Orlando trio of Howard, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis to 21 points. But it was a Halley's Comet performance. Bird has to save this thing. And, in the process, save himself.
I agree with Bob on this one.