Bob Kravitz
Indiana shouldn't fear making midseason deal

Chances are, the Indiana Pacers will play it safe now. Stay with the program. Allow the Thursday trade deadline to come and go without making the slightest bit of noise.

And why not? Throw out Tuesday night's aberration against New Orleans, a dreadful performance that ranks among the Pacers' worst of the season. All season, they've beaten good teams. They've beaten Western Conference teams. And despite Ron Artest's poorly timed little misadventure -- gee, you think that might fuel some new Pacers second-half meltdown stories? -- they're still a more mature team than the one that stood here a year ago.

Still, something compels me to wonder if this isn't the perfect time for the Pacers to contemplate a deal if the right one comes along -- one that involves either a big-time point guard or another oversized body to shore up the front line.

(A shooter would be nice, too, but nobody in this league can shoot anymore. Except Peja Stojakovic.)

"A lot of teams are reluctant to change their chemistry, tinker too much for fear it could disrupt things," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said Tuesday afternoon. "But every once in a while, maybe every eight to 10 years, you see the kinds of trades that made a decisive difference in teams winning championships."

Why not here? And now? Sometimes, great rewards require great risks.

Nobody is loony enough to scream that the Pacers absolutely, positively need to make a deal this week to have any chance of reaching the NBA Finals. There's no reason to jump from the bridge after an effort that suggested most of the team was still enjoying the All-Star break. Artest, in particular, spent the first half in his own private Laguna Beach.

But it would be nonsensical to rule out the very concept of a change because the braintrust doesn't dare mess with this heavenly chemistry.

Nobody understands that better than Carlisle, who would be surprised, but not completely dismayed, if his team received a late-season facelift.

He was with the Celtics when the Lakers acquired Mychal Thompson midway through the 1986-87 season. Thompson's big body helped the Lakers compete against Boston's towering front line and win the title.

Carlisle was an assistant coach in Portland when the Blazers dealt Clyde Drexler to the Houston Rockets, who went on to win the 1993-94 title over the Knicks.

Carlisle isn't pushing Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird to make any big deals right now. But he's not completely averse to the idea, either.

"I wouldn't be aghast if we made a trade now," Carlisle said. "But knowing how long it takes to get these things done, I would be shocked if anything major happened."

He wouldn't be alone. Walsh doesn't make midseason deals very often, and he never makes them when his team is playing exceedingly well. Does the equation change with Bird in the picture? Hard to say.

Walsh wasn't ruling anything out Tuesday, but he's not inclined to alter his long-held philosophy. "I've always felt the best time to make deals are in the summer," he said.

The Pacers have other constraints. For one, their most tradable guys are base-year compensation players, which means the Pacers couldn't command equal value. And the guy most teams want, Al Harrington, isn't on the market.

But it's not something that should be ruled out simply because the Pacers have emerged as the best team in the Eastern Conference.

They still have needs. Not the kinds of glaring needs that guarantee another early playoff exit. But the kinds of needs that were on grisly display Tuesday night.

They could use a shooter. (Did he just say Brent Barry?)

They could use another big man. The Hornets, one of the league's biggest, most physical teams, pushed the Pacers around their home floor.

And -- yes, here we go again -- they still need a major upgrade at point guard, especially if they want to get out of a conference that features Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd and Baron Davis. Jamaal Tinsley has been one of the season's best stories, but he still hasn't shown up for a Pacers' postseason series.

"If there's something out there that's obviously a good deal, we'll look at it," Walsh said. "But we're going to be real careful about it."

A trade isn't likely now. It's not even semi-likely now. But a trade shouldn't be completely out of the question, either.

Very interesting quote from Carlisle. "I wouldn't be aghast if we made a trade now," Carlisle said. "But knowing how long it takes to get these things done, I would be shocked if anything major happened."

Reading between the lines here.

Point one, Carlisle talks with Bird, so if he, Carlisle, wouldn't be aghast at a trade it would seem Bird isn't completely happy with the team, and would make a mid-season move. However, Carlisle doesn't expect a major trade.

Point two, teams usually hold a player out if they are going to be traded. Everyone played who was available last night, so it seems nothing is imminent.