Oct 7, 2:30 AM (ET)
By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Fred Jones enters the Indiana Pacers' training camp knowing he'll have to fight for every minute of playing time he can get. And that's just the way he likes it.
After a breakout season, Jones had shoulder surgery in July, then watched the Pacers trade for Stephen Jackson, another shooting guard.
Now, instead of becoming the heir apparent to Reggie Miller, Jones again finds himself having to scratch and claw just to get on the court.
"I like to fight," Jones said Wednesday. "I'm aggressive. I've been in a lot of fights in my life. I'm not going to back down."
That's exactly what coach Rick Carlisle wants to hear. Carlisle is a fan of competition in practice, believing it fosters improvement in everyone involved.
Even more encouraging is that Jones appears to be recovering quickly from a painful shoulder injury he sustained in the playoffs last season.
Jones was hurt in Game 3 of the second-round series against Miami, and played through it the rest of the postseason.
After three months of recovery time, Carlisle said Jones looks as if "he hasn't missed a beat."
The coach was most impressed by Jones' physical condition when he returned for training camp. Instead of adding weight during a long stretch of inactivity brought on by the surgery, Jones lost about nine pounds.
"He kept himself very mindful to the fact when you have an injury you can't blow up," Carlisle said. "Right now, he's playing the same way he did in the playoffs last year."
That's a good thing for the Pacers. After a slow start last season, the 6-foot-2 Jones used his acrobatic win in the slam dunk championship at All-Star weekend in Los Angeles as a catapult to a strong second half and playoffs.
"I went into the dunk contest not feeling well about it," Jones said. "Then it gave me a lot more confidence that I ended up winning, so I came out of that thinking, 'Man I need to push this up a little bit more and see what I can do."'
His outside shot started falling, and his defensive intensity increased, making him a valuable member of the rotation by season's end. He averaged 4.9 points and 2.1 assists in 81 games.
That didn't stop the Pacers from trading Al Harrington to Atlanta for Jackson, a shooting guard with 3-point range and good defensive skills.
And while Jones appears to be No. 3 on the depth chart behind Miller and Jackson, Carlisle said that shouldn't discourage him.
"We're very deep at that position right now, so I'm not sure who's going to get how many minutes," Carlisle said. "But I've told him not to look at the depth chart, not to count heads, but just to play and make it tough on us not to play him. That's what he did last year and that's what he's continuing to do this year."
That's the only way Jones knows how to do it. After starring at Oregon in college, the 2002 first-round draft pick saw minimal playing time his rookie season.
"My rookie year, I didn't get the opportunity to play," Jones said. "Last year was like my rookie year on the floor. Now I know what I can do and I expect it to go up a little more."
Whether it happens for Jones this year or not, Carlisle made it clear that he wants the 25-year-old in Indiana for a long time.
"He's a guy that, regardless of what happens in the short term, is an important part of this franchise's long-term vision," Carlisle said.