Hello everyone once again. Lots of things on my mind today based on what I am hearing, seeing, and reading here and elsewhere.....so let me just get started.
Bashing Jim O'Brien has become a common thing to do on message boards, fan forums, talk radio, and among fans everywhere else across Pacers country. Yet for the most part he gets a free pass among the mainstream media, and definitely has the support of upper management as far as we can tell. Fans, especially on here, view that as the media being asleep at the switch and/or proof that our front office is clueless, those are almost accepted as facts at this point not be disputed by many if not almost all.
Yet the questions I'd like for many of you to ask yourselves are these:
1. Isn't stability in not turning over coaches a good thing?
2. Who else would have really made a giant difference based on who we have on our roster?
The NBA is a players league, we all know that. So why do we spend so much time bashing our coach, when there are very few people in the world we could hire to replace him that would make any real difference?
Let's look at some examples off the top of my head:
-Alvin Gentry. He has been fired numerous times from some bad teams/organizations. Now he gets to coach Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire, and he is beating soundly a man we all consider to be a better coach than he is in Gregg Popovich. Did Gentry all of a sudden realize how to coach? No, he just has better players with Phoenix than he did with the Clippers.
-Doc Rivers. Doc was a failure as a coach, bashed in the media constantly in Beantown. Then he gets Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and suddenly he gets smarter.
-Mike Da'Antoni. Coach D was considered a new age basketball genius by some when in Italy and in Phoenix, but now as coach as the personnel challenged Knicks he can't seem to win.
There would be a thousand other examples if I wanted to take the time to list them all. How many coaches of the year have been fired shortly after winning the award? Almost every team in the playoffs is being coached by someone who has been fired elsewhere, did these people all of a sudden learn a bunch more about how to coach when they got a new job? Of course not, they just happened to have landed in better spots with better players usually.
Gregg Popovich? Larry Brown? George Karl? Stan Van Gundy? Scott Skiles? All of these guys are great coaches, but at one time they've all been shown the door. Maybe some of their former employers wish they had them back, don't you think? Even Jerry Sloan was canned in Chicago once. How ridiculous does that seem now?
A wise old coach, Royce Waltman once told me that the best coach in the world doing the best job isn't the coach who is winning titles or getting accolades. The coach likely doing the best is the guy who is slightly below .500 who is coaching his arse off just to try and win games with inferior talent and no support. I agree with that assessment.
Don't get me wrong, Jim O'Brien gets on my nerves as much as he does all of yours sometimes. His mannerisms, his player rotations, his offensive stubbornness, how he handles the media, all those things could be better and I wish they were. Is Jim O'Brien's system probably going to lead this particular group of players to a championship or even to the playoffs? No, very unlikely....and eventually we will have someone different have a chance to lead us to those points. I didn't like the hire when it was made and said so on here. The reliance on the three point shot, the quick bad shots, the over engineered defensive style, stubbornness....all of those bug me just like they do you.
But Jim O'Brien has helped turn our culture around. He has added a professionalism and stability that our fragile franchise needed, and he has led a basically controversy free team for quite a while. Our players don't quit on him, seem to listen, and even when benched or misused seem to handle things with a professional manner and grace. He has our team acting and behaving like pros, and being competitive in the late season even when part of us wishes his teams would just lay down and quit like so many others do.
He has led us with class, dignity, and honor in his tenure, and even though he will no doubt be out of town by the next time we are really good again, we still should be able to recognize the competitiveness and winning culture he has been a part of improving in his tenure, no matter how long it may last from this day forward. We likely won't be winners while he is coaching us, but someday when we DO win, he'll be able to smile to himself and know he played a small role in creating circumstances that led to that happening.
I have before and will again criticize his strategies and style, and that is fair and part of the job. But you cannot criticize his work ethic, commitment to the job, and his representation of the city and the franchise. We could have (and actually HAVE had) a much worse coaching situation than we have now. While the sun will soon set on how far he can take us, I for one appreciate what Coach O'Brien has done for us no matter what the results. In some ways I think it demeans us as a fan base when we blame so much on a coach, and yet leave certain players or owners blameless. We are better than that I think, or at least should be.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece on here called "Building a championship team using San Antonio as our model", or something similar to that. Let's review where we are in that pursuit now.
The Spurs were mainly built on the backs of 3 way above average players, a well coached team with its best player totally bought in to the system and the city, and smart role players who fit in smartly with the group.
This is the model franchise for how we have to build ourselves, in my opinion. The Spurs were never going to be able to get a max free agent superstar to come there, they had to be smart in how they acquired pieces that fit perfectly, and they needed quite a bit of luck as well. Lets review some of the major steps:
1. They already had an aging David Robinson obviously. His injuries made them an awful team for one year and let them get incredibly lucky in the lottery, where they landed Tim Duncan.
2. They drafted Manu Ginobili later in the draft from Europe, which at that time was vastly under appreciated by NBA teams.
3. They got a very good point guard in Tony Parker late in the first round from France.
4. Because Tim Duncan had the consummate team attitude and could take hard coaching, you never heard of controversy or player revolt in San Antonio. Coach Popovich needed his star to go all in with him, and he did....because Popovich was quite a yell/scream guy when he was younger and probably still is to some degree. When the leader totally buys in, the other guys follow.
5. The front office and coaching staff worked hand in hand and were in complete sync with each other, and built a culture of winning where things were done in a professional way, and that players wanted to come there and could fit in to help win. The front office picked up undervalued talent that fit their schemes perfectly, and the coaching staff adapted to what they had. Communication and planning between the front office and coaching staff was brilliant.
So here is my challenge to all of you: Instead of arguing about who our 10th man should be, and whether our 3rd string point guard should play more, or worrying about players who won't be here 2 years from now, lets worry about the following:
A. Is our front office and coaching staff clearly singing off the same song sheet completely and all of the time?
B. Has our best player (Granger) totally bought in to what we are doing and planning long term? Is he fully committed to becoming great, or is he going to plateau to the world of really good but not good enough?
C. What do we need to do to get the 2 other elite type players we need to go along with Granger? Who are they?
D. Are Hibbert, Rush, McRoberts, Hansbrough and Price good enough players to fit what we are doing long term, or do we need to jettison them and use them in deals to acquire who we really need?
If we are using San Antonio as our model of success, Jim O'Brien is probably the coach pre- Popovich. And that is ok for now, because we need to marshall our resources to get players before we worry about the coaching angle of this I think.
Here is how I look at what we have now, and what we need to become championship contenders:
PG/SG: There are 2 ways to do this I think: get a super elite, top 6 level point guard. This player is going to need to be able to score, pass, and defend...in other words a superstar player, a max contract guy or close to it. Somebody who is a stud. If you go this way I think you can live with and actually would want Brandon Rush to stay, because he would fit perfectly as a compliment between this player and Granger. Then Price fits as a backup 15 minute a game back up point guard, and you can easily acquire a scoring slashing guy to provide bench scoring behind Granger and Rush. Jones is a good cheap 4th wing guy. Dunleavy is history.
The other way to do this is to get a more traditional (and cheaper) point guard and pay him average starter money. He'd need to be more of a caretaker, less of a scorer, and more of a defender. More of a system guy, not an all star but an above average player who fits in. Think of Kirk Hinrich, Andre Miller type level players, except younger than Miller obviously.
If you go that route, then you'll need another main scorer beside Granger. Someone who is almost as good as Granger, or even slightly better than him. Preferably in our case an athletic slasher who can handle the ball and drive, since Granger is more of a shooter at this point. This is an easier guy to find as wings are more common. It would also mean that you keep Jones or Rush as a backup to both of them, but you'd have the freedom to deal one of them to acquire another piece.
SF: I think Granger is solid here. Under contract, solid citizen it would seem. He needs to buy in fully and commit to being great though, and I don't know if I see that happening yet. I think he settles in about where I always said he would, which is about Paul Pierce level. Pierce was good but won nothing until he got help from Allen, Garnett, and Rondo.
PF: I think we have a bunch of questions here. McRoberts I view as a bench guy, 4th big type, energy guy who helps you in spurts. I love watching him play and if you had a dominant center I think you could start him and win, but we don't have that and likely never will. Hansbrough I assume will be healthy, and if he is I view him as a 3rd big, 6th man role type who plays about 24-30 minutes a game off the bench. I think he will score, get to the line, play hard every night, and give you everything he has...a winning player. But, unless you have a superstar center you probably need someone better starting and finishing games if you are going to win a title. So, this is the spot where you need to get a big time superstar somehow, preferably one who is big enough to play back up center as well if you want, though that is a luxury. A "player x" that I keep talking about would be perfect.
Murphy is a really good player, let me just say that. He is just unorthodox and hard to build around. I feel about him like I felt about Alan Iverson (how is that for a comparison!), as both were really good players but you had to be willing to plan your entire team around them to make them effective. Iverson is obviously better than Murphy, so you could almost justify doing that with him in his prime, but Murphy simply isn't that good.
Murphy would fit in many places with a truly dominant center or wing, but we don't have either of those. He puts up numbers but on most teams he can't help them win.
Jeff Foster has been a warrior, and a true professional. But his time has come and gone here, and I hope we deal him somewhere that can help us and help him go out with another chance to win. Our culture is fixed to the point that I don't think we need to keep Jeff around anymore as a lockerroom leader guy. Losing him this year cost us games no question, as he is one of our most important players.....but thinking long term we need to move on.
C I think Roy Hibbert is good enough to be a starting player on a championship level team, if he is the 4th or 5th best player in the group. We could use a more athletic, defensive minded player to go with him as a backup, but it doesnt need to be an expensive player or a high priority.
Most of you probably agree with what I just wrote, that wasn't exactly hard hitting analysis there.
But breaking it down like that just shows you how quickly things can turn for a franchise like ours: Just look at some theoretical examples:
-Pacers get lucky and hit the lottery, draft John Wall. PG solved for 10 years we think. With a great PG Rush/Granger/Jones/ whoever combo suddenly makes sense. Now we need big free agent/sign and trade PF guy and we are set to make a run at it:
PG Wall and Price
Wings Granger, Rush, Jones, mid level free agent veteran or drafted guy
PF Player X star player , Hansbrough, McRoberts
C Hibbert and athletic backup defensive minded big guy.
Not saying that could or would happen, but one bounce of the lotto ball can change things dramatically. In the above scenario if you get lotto lucky and get the 2nd pick and take Turner, now you plug him in and start him next to Granger, send Rush to the bench, settle for a cheaper alternative like Miller or Hinrich level PG, and still have to hunt for a stud player X in the frontcourt.
The point is, we need to get draft lucky one more time, and get the money of Ford, Dunleavy, and Murphy off the books to acquire a stud player at some other position. Then you all of a sudden we turn it around quickly and Bird/Morway can look like they knew what they were doing all along.
I can assure you, they have moves in mind they have fantasized about making thinking about the above scenarios playing out. Somewhere in the offices or on the desks of Morway and Bird, they have their potential rosters all laid out 2 or 3 years in advance I bet.
You can see it now....the Pacers long term plan to bring in a more traditional coach next summer to help recruit players, hopefully tutor some more recently acquired talent, and coach us when are ready to make a big leap. The plan really is starting to take shape, if we can just stay patient.
By the way, I'll have a future piece about who the superstar is I think the Pacers might be targeting next summer, and what moves I think they should make in order to make that as likely as possible when I write my pre draft "masterplan" article sometime after the lottery and before the draft.
Speaking of the summer of 2011, the summer of 2010 is going to be important for that as well, particularly the draft.
The Pacers have alot of player openings in 2011, with alot of money coming off the books, we all know that. We have very few guys under contract after this year.
But in the NBA, depth doesn't win, you need big money superstar talents to win. I think we have 1 such player in Granger, but he needs 2 more stud players with him. One or both of those is going to need to come from a trade or free agency, which means we will need to spend some big money. That is fine, because we will have the means to do that.
But it would be very helpful, and likely really help us long run, if we were able to get some cheaper talent under contract in advance of next summer. That way, we could consolidate our resources and spend big money on one or two players, with not having to spend as much money to fill out the roster.....not having to "spread the wealth" next summer is the difference perhaps in being the highest bidder for a great player, or coming in second.
This is the reason our ownership and front office needs to be nimble this June. I think this is a crucial time to try and get a second first round pick, IF we don't get one of the first 3 picks in the lottery that is. If we do get lucky, we will get a for sure long term starter and superstar (we hope) level player down the road for cheaper money, and we can change our salary outlays accordingly.
But assuming we don't get lucky, we will need to spend money to bring in a couple of high salaried stud players if this plan is going to work. That means having cheap backups will be crucial, and this is where that extra first round pick would really help us.
With that second 1st rounder, we can draft the long term replacement for Dunleavy (a 5th wing this year, 4th wing or better in the future) or a long term backup center (replacement for Foster long term essentially).
A cheap backup center is a very handy thing to have in the NBA, and we can get one long term for us this draft we play things smartly. That way in 2012, 2013, or 2014 we don't have to spend ridiculous money trying to fill that spot, instead we can save money by growing our own.
Or, we could swing for the fences and try and draft a foreign young player, and hope they develop for us in Europe, and we can get a cheap major young contributor for us down the road, perhaps in 2011 even.
Or, drafting wing depth makes sense so we can have the luxury of being able to pay cheap money for that spot or to use Rush or Jones as a sweetener in a major acquisition of some sort. There will be some decent wings in the late teens or early 20's in this draft I think.
No matter who we'd happen to pick, this is the absolutely PERFECT year to try and acquire a bonus first round pick. Lots of teams will be wanting out of the draft all together I think for financial reasons, which is why we need to be willing to spend a quarter now to save a dollar later, if you know what I mean.
As always, lots of good thought starters here in the topics I hope. Hopefully, this will get some really good discussions going on some things maybe that haven't been discussed or at least fleshed out as much as they will be now.
As always, the above is just my opinion.