Promise keepers? Let's hope Pacers can change their world
When it comes to marketing campaigns, the Indiana Pacers haven't gotten a lot of breaks in recent seasons.
I can still remember 2006, when billboards went up around the city saying, "It's up to us." They weren't out there more than 10 minutes when Stephen Jackson and some other players were involved in an ugly strip-club incident that involved a bit of gunplay.
It's up to us? Actually, it was up to the prosecutor at that point.
So this year, the Pacers marketing folks have come up with "The Promise" -- which sounds like a Nicholas Sparks book. "Protect The Promise," they are saying, and then a handful of Pacers are telling you what those generic promises are. Although I'm concerned when they say, "We promise to play Pacers basketball," which sounds like more of a threat to me.
Better, I guess, than, "Pacers basketball: Where mediocrity happens."
Anyway, all of this got me to thinking about some promises I would like to see fulfilled by the Pacers, and one promise I will make to the Pacers organization:
Promise to be relevant for the first time since The Brawl. Nobody is demanding a winning season. Nobody is saying they have to be a .500 team or even make the playoffs. Just be relevant. Just be interesting. Just be entertaining, the way they were two years ago when they competed in every game, only to lose late.
Last year's first two home games -- losses to Miami and Denver -- were among the more depressing, dispiriting efforts I've seen in my 10 years here. And it never got any better. They were bad and boring -- at least until the last month of the season, when they blew a high lottery choice once again. People in this town are dying for a reason to return to Conseco Fieldhouse. Give them one.
Promise to stay out of trouble. This franchise has done a great job off the court in recent years, only to suffer a setback with the Lance Stephenson mess and Brandon Rush's drug suspension. This city has had enough, and it's unfair to the majority of great guys who've done all the right things for this team.
Promise to stop talking about defense and start playing some.
We heard it again from coach Jim O'Brien on the eve of tonight's preseason opener at Memphis; this team still isn't dedicated to playing NBA-quality defense.
And there's no excuse. This team has a lot better pure athletes than the team that went to the 2000 NBA Finals. But that veteran group knew how to play team defense. This group, still . . . no clue. And yes, Danny Granger, team leader, I'm looking at you.
Promise to let Darren Collison be Darren Collison. He is one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the league, and O'Brien must let Collison initiate the offense off the pick-and-roll. Make your coaching philosophy fit the talent, not the other way around.
Promise to bring back Bowser. I don't think Boomer's ever gotten over it.
Promise to give Roy Hibbert every chance to reach his potential as a top-tier center. O'Brien has said his offense will go through the leaner, meaner Hibbert this season. Let's see him remain true to his word and stay committed to that approach.
And another thing: When the Pacers play against those Euro-centers who play on the perimeter, start and play Hibbert and make the opponent pay for the mismatch on the other end.
Promise to hold Rush accountable for the way he plays. Kindergarten is over. It's past time worrying about his fragile confidence. Either he can cut it or he can't. He says he's ready to atone for having earned a five-game drug suspension. Fine. We're waiting.
Promise to make the starting power forward spot Josh McRoberts' to lose. According to people who watch practice every day, McRoberts has been the team's best player. Let's see what he can do with meaningful minutes.
Promise to let the assistant coaches coach. O'Brien says every year he will give his assistants more of a voice, and every year, his voice ends up being the only one anybody hears.
Nobody doubts who's in charge. Tuesday, he was all over his players, taking them to task for playing soft, for taking dumb shots, for failing to execute plays.
Players, though, get tired of hearing the same things from the same person.
Promise to grow. This franchise has been in a holding pattern in recent years, and for very good reason: It has been locked in salary-cap purgatory, and it's only now starting to get out from under all those onerous contracts.
It's time to start building toward something. If Indiana can establish a foundation of decent, young players, then use its coming salary-cap advantage to make more Collison-like trades or grab a free agent, the Pacers will be a playoff team down the road.
And my promise?
If they fulfill their promises, I promise to get off their case.