I wonder if Jim O'Brien had some strings attached to his return with the Indiana Pacers this season?
The team took a step back last season in terms of effort and execution which seemed to indicate a general deafening to JOB's direction. Whether Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, T.J. Ford or JOB himself, everyone on the team seemed extremely frustrated at various points during the season. While there were factors outside of JOB"s control, and injuries combined with no experienced depth is a legit factor, changing the voice of direction with a new coach seemed warranted, if not expected after the season.
Like the roster, there have been minimal changes to the coaching staff, but with JOB in the head chair nothing of substance has changed. Larry Bird shared some of his reasoning earlier this summer. Essentially, there might very well be a lockout next summer and with the expiring deals on the roster, this year remains completely in flux. He was more comfortable with JOB continuing to work with the young players until the future is more settled. What he didn't say, but which also must be considered, is that for those same reasons, finding the right coach to take the team into the future would be extremely difficult since the current situation is less than attractive.
I also wonder if JOB agreed to alter his approach a bit this year and offer more minutes to the young players whom the Pacers expect to develop into their future core. JOB has been stingy with minutes for young players like Roy Hibbert, A.J. Price and Josh McRoberts at various times over the past couple of years. The story last week that the Pacers were trying to move Dunleavy had me thinking there may be a new directive from the front office since Dunleavy is a versatile player JOB loves to utilize because he knows how to move the ball and move without the ball on the court.
The key indicator of any change in approach will be how JOB handles the point guard situation. As we sit here today, the Pacers don't need a point guard even though they desperately need a point guard. I'll try to explain after the jump.
Mike Wells recently reported on the Pacers continuing to look for a deal to land a point guard. With Darren Collison and George Hill out of the picture, an intriguing stop-gap name in Jose Juan Barea from Dallas was mentioned. Barea has one year left on his contract at under $2 million, so let's say the Pacers swung a deal to swap Solo Jones for Barea. Perfect, right? Pacers land some backcourt help and free up some space up front for rookie Magnum Rolle.
But that would put four point guards on the roster. Yes, A.J. Price is working through a knee injury and remains a wild card, not to mention rookie Lance Stephenson as a wild care in general due to his age and inexperience. So a point guard like Barea would be nice security. But, Stephenson needs to play and if available, so does Price, so then what?
This brings us back to T.J. Ford.
Until he's off the roster, the Pacers don't need a point guard. Having Ford spend the bulk of another season at the end of the bench won't help the situation. Obviously, JOB would like to see Ford traded. Even more obvious is Ford's desire to be dealt. That was apparent with the reports of Ford dancing near the team plane when he thought he was headed to Charlotte at the trade deadline last year. There were no similar reports about JOB, although I have to think he was somewhere privately doing the Dougie about the deal that was called off at the last second. Still, other than T.J.'s tarmac two-step, the two have handled their tenuous situation professionally in public but they just can't make it work on the court.
Well...they may have to.
If Ford is on the roster, he needs to play. If training camp comes and goes and T.J. is still on the roster, JOB has to allow Ford to essentially play his way off the roster. Give him the minutes to show he can still play and when you combine that with his expiring contract, a team employing a different style of play may be more inclined to work out a deal.
So between T.J. Ford and the young players on the roster, it will be interesting to see how JOB manages the roster this season. JOB has always played for the moment, winning one game today being the only priority. While admirable on the surface, that approach has clouded the long-term future. The Pacers head into this season playing for the future, but a couple of key questions remain.
How will Jim O'Brien handle his players this year? How will the players respond?