If you didn't know this, Bill Benner still writes a weekly column in the IBJ.
BENNER: Pacers: So far, so good, but what will future bring?
By Bill Benner
With the NBA All-Star break approaching, my friends the Optimist and the Pessimist gathered at a downtown watering hole to offer their midseason assessments of their favorite team, the Indiana Pacers.
As usual, they invited me along and allowed me to eavesdrop.
Optimist: And so, my sour pal, even you would have to admit that all is right in our little corner of the professional basketball world. Larry Bird and Rick Carlisle are back, the teamís 20 games over .500, Jermaine OíNeal is positively studly, and Ron Artest is on his best behavior. See you in the NBA Finals.
Pessimist: Two words. Eastern Conference.
Pessimist: So it means theyíre the best of the minor league, and that means nothing. Theyíre playing for second place Ö and thatís if they somehow donít lose in the first round of the playoffs again.
Optimist: First of all, they donít have to be better than anyone in the West over 82 games. They just have to be better over seven games in the Finals. And second, this will be the year they rediscover their playoff magic, and Iíll tell you why in two words: Bird, Carlisle.
This is the greatest reunion since Simon and Garfunkel. Isiah Thomas ran the loosest ship this side of McHaleís Navy. Bird and Carlisle demand discipline. Just look at the change in Artest.
Pessimist: Tick, tick, tick. Thatís the sound of a time bomb waiting to explode. I remind you the Pacers had virtually the same record at this time last year when Artest detonated and the season went south. I look at Artest and see a guy right on the edge.
Optimist: I look at Artest and see an All-Star. Carlisle and Bird have screwed his head on straight. Zero tolerance. This guy has come into his own.
Pessimist: Instead of coming, I think heíd rather be going Ö to New York to be with his buddy, Isiah. With or without Artest, this is stillóand Iíll use my favorite word hereóa flawed team.
The geniuses, Bird and Donnie Walsh, were Dumb and Dumber in letting Brad Miller get away, so theyíve got no center. Itís point guard by committee with Jamal Tinsley as the latest chairman. Reggie Miller is, what, 48 years old? Al Harringtonís only goal is to shoot every time he touches the ball. And worst of all, Jonathan Bender is back.
Optimist: What team havenít you been watching? Jeff Foster has a harder nose than any of those guys on Mount Rushmore. Tinsley is to be complimented for the way heís hung in there and it may have been that he had to take one step back to take two steps forward.
For the record, Reggie is 38 and heís still hitting big shots. Yeah, Harrington likes to shoot. Know what? He also likes to hit. This team wonít rise or fall on what Bender does or doesnít do. This team has incredible depth. And at the end of the day, or the game, theyíve got OíNeal. Not many like him.
Pessimist: No; no more than 10 or 12 like him in the West.
Optimist: Again, my friend, whatís in the West is a June problem. Iím more concerned about whatís right in front of them.
Pessimist: As well you should be. Two more words: Last year. I guarantee you that face-plant they did after the All-Star break is still in their minds. I know itís still in mine.
Optimist: And thatís why you are such a faint-hearted, fair-weather fan. You donít see the glass half empty. You see it leaking. Last year was last year. Different team. Different coach. Different feel.
Pessimist: For now. But what I fear is, when the playoffs get here we see Foster with no offense, Reggie on old legs, Harrington shot-hunting, OíNeal in foul trouble and yakking at the refs, and Artest knocking over cameras.
Optimist: Canít let it go, can you? What I see is Foster setting the tone with inside defense and rebounding. I see Reggie going back to the future and winning a game, or several, with Miller Time shots. I see Harrington playing like a starter off the bench, OíNeal dominating at both ends, and Artest taking the other teamís best player out of his game.
I see Tinsley coming into his own and the Pacers wearing teams down with their depth. And I see Rick Carlisle instead of Isiah Thomas on the sidelines. Itís all good, Iím telling you.
Pessimist: And Iím telling you it will all be over, again, before the Indianapolis 500. But even if it isnít, theyíre still playing for second. West is way best.
The two of them paused, looked at me, and asked my thoughts.
ďHow íbout those Colts?Ē I said.
Benner, a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star, is now vice president of communications for the not-for-profit Indiana Sports Corp. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.