Let's try some reverse psychology here. My part-one fanpost was published when optimism was at an all-time high regarding the end of the lockout. The positive press inspired in me a number of ideas about what I'd like to see during the season. Optimism was quelled when yet another breakdown occurred in discussions. My fanpost felt a little rushed. A little naive.
Now, lockout dealings seem as fuzzy as ever, so let's see if the reverse can be true. Maybe part two will come at a time of unexpected compromise. I'm not holding my breath, but as these lists represent...we can always dream. Part two after the jump...
5. A Pacers Display on the Modern-Day Version of NBA on NBC
– I know, I know. The NBA schedule is already out, and Indy didn’t make the TNT cut. One positive of the lockout, however, is that if play is to resume, then scheduling will have to be reconsidered. ESPN games are nice, but Thursday nights are the glitz of the NBA regular season. There’s a sense of team validation when Ernie, Chuck, and Kenny gather to breakdown your team’s game/roster. The voices of Kevin Harlan and Marv Albert are sublime, and it’s basketball destiny for them to one day dramatize Hoosier state exploits again. The demands are few. A Thursday night home game isn’t required after the way Indy fans allowed Conseco to be overridden with Red and Black in April. Harlan nor Albert can make it? Fine, we’ll take Dick Stockton and his possible Dementia diagnosis instead. The point is, the Pacers are ready to consistently return to a relevant basketball stage, even if it’s for only one Thursday night; even if it’s a preconceived bloodbath in South Beach, Boston, or L.A. The ghost of NBA past demands it. Reggie Miller lore demands it. More importantly, an improving young team coming off a competitive playoff matchup demands it
4. "Born Ready" Validaton
– Lance Stephenson’s high-school accolades were often overshined by his sketchy rep off the court. His one-year stay at Cincy was clouded by alleged on-court selfishness. His rookie year in Indy provided a return to the police blotter, and a playing-time freeze because of his role in polluting the Pacers’ locker room. All the while, masses of Lance followers are wondering what exactly he was born so ready to do. Lucky Lance, charges associated with the staircase incident were dropped. Then came the promise to stay in Indy during the offseason; a promise that Lance has kept. Is this man-child personality maturing right before our eyes? I sure hope so. Lance can dazzle on the court with pinpoint passes, and adept finishes at the rim. He can also baffle with wayward jumpshots, and overall self-centered play. Such is the life of a talented, but inexperienced player trying to make his mark. The simple reality is that if Lance can learn to appropriately hone his basketball skills, he could become the offensive architect behind second-unit splendor. We’re ready to see you make the maturity jump on-and-off the court, Lance. Are you ready?
3. Darren Collison Channeling His Inner Blue and Gold…His UCLA Blue and Gold
That Is – It’s hard to fathom an NBA draft maven once said this when projecting Darren Collison in the NBA, "He is a pesky, physical defender, who gets right in his man’s grill and denies space extremely well…" Say what? Never seen that DC in the house of Conseco. In fact, I don’t think anyone’s seen that DC anywhere at the NBA level. However, the projection was not only logical, but merited back then. The UCLA version of DC was a defensive hound who played the role of defensive catalyst for Ben Howland and his UCLA teammates. Maybe it was disenchantment with his overall role in OB’s outdated system. Maybe it was the ticky-tack, offensive-driven rules of the NBA. Maybe it was simply his pint-sized frame. Whatever the reason, DC, as a Pacer, was a defensive tragedy in 2010-2011. Make a date with Mr. Howland. Bulk up. Mercilessly practice going over, under, and plowing through screens. Do whatever it takes, DC. Find your defensive edge, because if you don’t, an Indiana native is waiting for the call to resolve your defensive deficiencies.
2. Some Saintly Neighbor Innovation
– Gotta feel bad for Frank Vogel. The Jim O’Brien lifer was asked to replace his mentor midseason, at a point when the Pacers’ pulse meter was excruciatingly low. With basically no practice time, the first-time-head coach was tasked with the responsibility of playing the young guys while simultaneously changing the team’s culture, and challenging for a playoff spot. The message: "Do all that, and then maybe…MAYBE we’ll hire you full time, young buck." Well…we know what happened from there. The playoff performance proved to be Vogel’s shoe-in for the permanent job, right? Not exactly. As Jamaal Tinsley and TJ Ford can attest, Larry Bird is a waiter. And "wait" was the head-coach-for-hire theme during the offseason. Eventually, Saintly Neighbor Vogel netted the job along with some hand-picked, highly-regarded assistants.
Finally, all was perfect in Vogel world, no? Well…it wouldn’t be Vogel world without another dose of wait-like adversity. The lockout’s doom and gloom reared its ugly head, and once again, Indy’s coach was disallowed from putting his full stamp on the team. In Vogel’s limited time, we’ve seen impressive bravado, quirky, yet effective motivational tactics, a good eye for fellow coaching talent, and some top-notch-play design coming out of timeouts. We’ve also seen wild spells of winning and losing streaks and locker-room turmoil. Call him a mixed bag at this point, but something tells me: the uncanny passion, the motivational ploys, the out-of-timeout marksmanship, the focus on offense simplification/execution, the assistant coaches’ recruitment and triumph; all of it points to a future heady tactician. And, as Reggie so thoroughly demonstrated in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998, there’s nothing quite like perfect execution of Blue-and-Gold innovation.
1. Operation Lockdown: GH and PG Edition
– One’s a 6’2 combo guard with a pterodactyl-lite wingspan, who apprenticed under a modern-day, defensive savant (Can you say Greg Poppovich?). The other is a 6’8, 21-year old who put his sizzling athletic talents on display while mirroring D-Rose’s every offensive move in the playoffs. Together, they potentially comprise the NBA’s most lethal defensive backcourt combination. Fourth-quarter suffocation will be their game. Operation Lockdown their name. Factor in the expected offensive upgrade on the part of P. George, the already-established-offensive sparkplugging of G. Hill, and you wonder if there’s a place for the likes of Collison and Rush to meaningfully contribute. Especially at closing time.