The Indiana Pacers face an interesting week, starting with a couple of days to work through their on-court issues before playing the Portland Trailblazers on Wednesday evening.
The Blazers will provide a stern test as one of the top teams in the Western Conference, trying to work through their own issues. See the Blazers are winning, just not enough as they try to figure out how best to use all of their young talent. The Pacers would be lucky to have the Blazers' problems right now. It's just a shame Greg Oden was injured before he was able to make a triumphant return to Conseco Fieldhouse where he won several high school championships.
The Pacers' issues, however have moved past the opponent. The combination of injuries and inexperience along with new players in critical roles have left Jim O'Brien and the players in search of a winning combination.
But at this point, the Pacers' issues have even moved past winning. All of these same problems (injuries, inexperience, unfamiliarity) were factors last season, as were the losses, but this year is different. Last year's team gave you something to cling onto. All of the close games, down to the last possession revealed a gritty team, often playing above their head. If only they could get a stop, last year's team would've been the darlings of the city.
Forget the stops this year. The Pacers can't get going offensively and once it starts going bad it seems to worsen exponentially. It seems like there have already been more stagnant possession, with poor spacing, no ball or man movement than we saw all of last year. These lovelies usually end with a jumper created out of rhythm or a forced drive into traffic for an off-balance shot attempt/beg for a foul. Rarely productive and never fun to watch.
This is the NBA though and wins and losses are THE measure of a team. After the Blazers, the Pacers face the New Jersey Nets at home on Friday and then the Washington Wizards on the road Saturday. An 0-3 week with no signs of improvement should bring with it some sort of change. I realize Danny Granger may not be available, but the rest of the players on the roster are paid to perform, as well. Plus, don't complain to the Nets or Wizards about a couple of injuries.
So, assuming the worst, then what? Fire the coach? Make a trade?
Jim O'Brien may end up being the fall guy if things don't turn around soon, and by turn around, I don't necessarily mean going on a winning streak, but at least having the team play 48 minutes of solid basketball. Judging by my inbox and comments, the paying public has grown weary of JOB at the helm of the Pacers. From the Laz-E-Boy it seems like the team has, as well. For brief stretches on the road trip, you could tell the team had orders to do things differently, like take the ball to the rim instead of settling for jumpers, but too often the same issues continue to plague the Pacers. There's only so many different ways the same person can deliver the same message, and if that message isn't getting through then someone else needs to try.
So how the Pacers play in home games this week against Portland and New Jersey, and then on the road Saturday against Washington will be very interesting. More of the same poor play and worse, three losses will make a change difficult to avoid. I realize Larry Bird has legitimate leave JOB in charge for now, but can you imagine if the Pacers lose to the Nets at home? The Fieldhouse will be an ugly scene. Giving the faithful (and anyone at the Fieldhouse on Friday is faithful, if nothing else) some sort of change at least acknowledges that the organization doesn't accept the current effort is willing to try something different.
Just don't forget, the Pacers still can't make significant changes to the roster and hoping for a critical trade involving one or more of the high-priced veterans is crazy talk. The Troy Murphy's and T.J. Ford's on the roster had cumbersome contracts before last summer when the salary market depressed. Now, their contracts with another year remaining are still a problem. Even if a team wanted the players, making any sort of fair deal is about impossible.
So there's no easy fix in sight. And believe me, changing the coach this year isn't going to do anything but give people something else to complain about. But before anything changes, let's see how the team responds to a couple of days off and three games to prove they're capable of playing better at both ends of the court.
Here are few links of interest:
Unsettled Pacers seek answers
Mike Wells digs into some of the issues causing the Pacers' problems.
Hansbrough faces growing pains adjusting to NBA
Mike Wells reports on rookie Tyler Hansbrough adjusting to NBA life with inconsistent play and minutes.
Injuries continue to plague Oden's NBA career
Greg Oden, the former Lawrence North legend has a tough road ahead to resume his NBA career, let alone ever becoming the dominant big man as projected.
Every day is about survival
Jim O'Brien continues his exemplary service to the community as an advocate for the city's homeless.