Offseason is no time to slack off
Pacers leave town in search of ways to bulk up, improve skills.
By Mark Montieth
August 24, 2004
By all accounts, the Indiana Pacers are working diligently this offseason. They just aren't working in Indiana.
Like players from most NBA teams, the Pacers scatter far and wide during the summer. From season's end until just before training camp begins, a fan would be more likely to meet one of them in Atlanta or Los Angeles than in Indianapolis.
Reggie Miller and Austin Croshere have been in the Los Angeles area. Jermaine O'Neal spent most of his summer in Portland, Ore., then went to L.A. Jamaal Tinsley and Anthony Johnson are in Atlanta. Jonathan Bender is in New Orleans. Jeff Foster is in San Antonio, working out at the Spurs practice facility.
The practice court at Conseco Fieldhouse, meanwhile, remains empty on many days. Ron Artest, the only veteran Pacer to live in Indianapolis most of the summer, attended rookie/free agent camp for a few days in July but has otherwise been an irregular presence. First-round draft pick David Harrison also has spent most of the summer here since signing a contract early in July.
Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh would like to establish the fieldhouse as a workout center -- not only for the Pacers players but for other NBA and nearby college players. But he and team president Larry Bird recognize the logistic realities, as well as the fact young, single players are going to have the time, money and desire to live where they want in the summer.
"I'd like to (have more players work out in Indianapolis), but it doesn't seem to work out that way," Walsh said. "We just don't have that many pro players here in Indy."
Road trips for coaches
The Pacers monitor progress by sending coaches around the country to work with the players. Coach Rick Carlisle has seen 10 of the 14 players under contract for next season, recently adding Bender to his list. Assistant Kevin O'Neill, hired by the Pacers the last week of July, already has worked with Tinsley in Atlanta and Miller and Croshere in Los Angeles. Special assistant Chuck Person and conditioning coach Bill Dean have visited Bender and will go back this week. Associate head coach Mike Brown will visit Bender, Jackson, Foster and O'Neal.
It's certainly not as convenient as everyone meeting at the fieldhouse, but it has some advantages. Person believes everyone needs to get away from one another after being together nearly every day from October through the end of the playoffs. He also believes players are motivated by going off on their own, working on their games and their bodies in relative privacy, then coming back for "show and tell" when camp opens.
This approach is nothing new. Carlisle spent most of his offseasons as a player working at the University of Virginia and in French Lick with teammate Larry Bird.
"I see the benefits in a lot of (scenarios)," Carlisle said. "If you have a lot of guys around it's easier to get to them. On the other hand it wouldn't afford the opportunity to recharge and get away from it.
"I don't mind the fact a lot of guys scatter in the summer. I'm pretty certain it's like that with most franchises."
It is, although San Antonio has been a successful exception. Brown worked with Spurs players in San Antonio in the summers during his three seasons as an assistant coach there, including the championship in 2003.
Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen and other core players stayed in San Antonio to work out, which enticed others to do the same. The Spurs made it more attractive by opening their facility to the players' families. The wives were welcome to use the weight room and treadmills, and the kids could swim in the pool or watch DVDs in the lounge.
Brown even took the players on road trips to Houston to compete against other NBA players for a change of pace. They were there, in fact, on Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks. They watched it all unfold on television at the gymnasium, then rented vans and drove back to San Antonio.
The Pacers might have to wait for some of their core players to grow older, get married and settle down to establish a similar environment in Indianapolis.
"You'll see a changing of the guard," Person predicted.
"You have to let these young men grow up. Just because they have six, seven years in the league doesn't mean they've gotten through the maturation period. They want to travel the country and travel abroad just to see different things. You can't always expect them to want to stay in one place. They have inquiring minds and they're still growing."
Regardless of where they work, the players have plenty of opportunities to improve, either on their own or in structured environments.
About 60 NBA and college players and about 25 coaches gathered at a high school in Las Vegas for a four-day camp the first week of August. They practiced twice a day, with drills and lectures in the morning that covered nuances such as setting screens and curling off them. They scrimmaged at night, with referees and clocks.
Carlisle, Brown and assistant Chad Forcier all worked the camp. O'Neal and Jackson participated, as did Eric Snow, Paul Pierce and several less-established players.
The camp began as informal private workouts conducted by legendary NBA assistant Tim Grgurich for Snow and some UNLV players after Snow's rookie season in 1996. It has grown from word-of-mouth advertising and now turns away players and coaches who aren't properly connected. Grgurich has declined offers of sponsorship because he wants to maintain control, which also allows him to refuse media coverage. A Boston Globe reporter who entered the gymnasium on the first day was told to leave, and a cardboard sign was posted on the gymnasium's back door to keep out other undesirables. What it lacked in grammar it made up for in clarity: "Players and coach's only."
For the participants, however, it's a valued course in the summer curriculum.
"It's one of the purest basketball situations we have," Carlisle said. "Everybody's there because they want to get better and because they love and respect the game."
Pete Newell ran his annual Big Man camp the same week in Las Vegas, offering intensive instruction for post players. Newell, a Hall of Fame inductee as a coach, has operated the sessions for several years, recently moving them from Hawaii to Las Vegas to make them more accessible.
Players wanting more intense instruction can go to the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. Joe Abunassar, director of the basketball academy, works with more than 50 NBA and college players in August, when preseason preparations get more serious. Former Pacer Al Harrington is a fixture, spending several weeks each summer. Tinsley spent the summer there two years ago, and former Indiana University forward Jared Jeffries is among the regulars.
The players pay $1,000 per week for the experience, although discounts are offered for long-term participants.
"This is not a place for everyone," said Abunassar, a former student manager at Indiana University and an assistant coach at Wyoming. "They go hard.
"A lot of guys think they're just trying to get in shape for training camp. But if a guy's telling me that, he doesn't have the right philosophy. This is the time to get better."
Wherever they are.
Call Star reporter Mark Montieth at (317) 444-6406