Pacers still trying to put together what Larry Bird broke up

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers continue to desperately piece together a strong team dynamic to make a playoff run after coming apart down the stretch of the regular season.

The answer didn't need any words.

The pursed upper lip, averted eyes and deep breath before answering revealed all you needed to know about how the Pacers felt. Andrew Bynum was still days away from evening joining the team, but everything had changed.

David West, Paul George, George Hill and even Frank Vogel, all dutifully answered questions about Bynum's addition the night the move was announced, but there was no genuine enthusiasm or sparkle in their eyes when they spoke.

Of course it couldn't hurt, right? The Pacers had a roster spot open, Ian Mahinmi wasn't performing great and any minutes Bynum could give them would certainly help in the playoffs.

But that's only on paper. In reality, the seal on the tightest team in the league was officially broken.

Pacers president Larry Bird wasn't happy with the way the team's play was trending and his efforts to improve the bench didn't work as expected. Shaking up the team seemed like a great idea. Put everybody on edge and let the competitive fire take hold to set them back on a championship course.

Well, it worked for Ian Mahinmi. But the rest of the team didn't respond and then, when Bird traded Danny Granger for Evan Turner, the esprit de corps that pushed the Pacers to win one more game all offseason was officially wiped out. Bird broke the seal.

Is it my fault Bird felt the need to make changes? Is it his fault?

Natural questions from mere humans when faced with change. Now they had to learn to trust new players as well as the remaining players all over again. How would Ian react? What about Roy? How would Lance's role change with Turner around?

All of the new questions distracted  the individuals from the team pursuit. The sweet dynamic enjoyed in November and December was now sour.

It has nothing to do with what Bynum, Turner and Granger did, do or have yet to do. It was the response to change that put the Pacers in an altered state.

Look, Granger was not going to help down the stretch and his locker room influence on the team has been overblown. But...everyone on the team knew this was Granger's last with the Pacers as the season started. Whether he played two games, ten or was a big contributor, a slice of the motivation, the tight bond that made this team tick, was giving Granger a title run after he survived the ugly rebuilding years at the Fieldhouse.

Now Granger was gone and it was because the guys who were playing weren't getting it done. Again, not a big X's and O's impact, but one that alters the dynamic of the full roster functioning as one. Would they have put things together eventually with no changes? Quite possibly, yes. But the other possibility wasn't an option.

Bird didn't want to find out the answer would be no and then be caught not doing anything about it.

Instead he gambled that his group would be able to handle the change but by pushing all of his chips to the middle of the table, Bird was caught bluffing when his guys didn't respond well. The tight knit group turned into a roster of individuals that don't add up to nearly the sum of the dominating group that started the season.

The players are complicit in this, as well. Bird surely thought his team of professionals, with David West maintaining a voice of reason, could handle the business side of the game. Unfortunately that required leaning heavily on two 23-year-old players and the mood swings of a 7'2 center. The group simply hasn't shown the maturity to handle the adversity which comes on the heels of them not handling their early success particularly well either.

So now the Pacers try to find a spark to come together for a playoff run. Frank Vogel hinted at raising the white flag on the chase for the top spot in the East to give his starters more rest in the final week of the season. David West, along with Vogel and the reset of the team, dismissed the disgusting effort on Sunday night against the Hawks as a weekend gone bad, adding to the additional travel fatigue with a smokin' hot Hawks team to have one of those nights.

At this point, those are another in a line of empty excuses. But the positive nature of West's post-game comments and his adamant belief (far different from a week ago) in his team doing the right things, remains a glimmer of hope.

"We're all right," West said with a slight smile after the game. "I think out energy is coming back. I think we're pulling for one another. Again, we're just focused on trying to put together better basketball games at this point."

Two days at home, an actual practice at the Fieldhouse and the expected return of C.J. Watson on Wednesday should also help.

It has to. They're out of time to get it together. The playoffs start in less than two weeks which is the last chance to save the team Larry Bird deflated and make his moves work when it really counts.

Bold moves from the front office are how Exec of the Year awards are won when they work. But you can't minimize the impact when they don't work. Bird has been swinging for the fences all year to go for a title, which we applaud and encourage, but he's down to his last strike in the playoffs where his work this year will either produce a home run or see him strike out looking.

Oh, and Reggie Miller tends to agree which you can hear in this well-timed interview with Dan Patrick. Reg addresses the chemistry issues with the Pacers, without mentioning Bird, which starts at the 7:40 mark.

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