Don't blame the Indiana Pacers 14th roster spot if it's a little tired. It needs to put its feet up on the couch and take a breather.
Even though the roster spot hasn't been filled yet, it's been run around the block a few times. It's been linked to more partners than Jon Gosselin. Unfortunately, everyone is just flirting with the spot instead of staying the night.
At first, the spot seemed likely to be handed on a platter to second-round draft pick A.J. Price. The would-be fourth string guard offered up a decent showing during the summer league play and it seemed appropriate that the Pacers, which would later release the infection commonly known as Jamaal Tinsley, would sign him to fill out the roster.
But after team president Larry Bird announced the Pacers would carry only 14 players into training camp, the 14th seat behind the bench got some attention and also got little crowded with names. Dahntay Jones grabbed the 11th spot. Earl Watson was signed into the 12th, and Solomon Jones slipped comfortably into the 13th.
So all the inhabitants of Pacer Land were again focused on that 14th position. The final spot. The last contract. The loneliest number.
The 14th was almost, kinda, sorta filled several times in the past month. The possibilities of Tony Allen, Gabe Pruitt, and every other Boston Celtic not named Kevin Garnett or Red Auerbach were thrown at Indiana. Then came along Luther Head...and there went Luther Head as the rumor finished off the long line of basketball players that passed through on the free agent conveyer belt.
The offseason schedule is closing in on the Pacers late-September training camp start, which is early this year due to the team's trip to Asia. It seemed likely that the Marquis Daniels deal would bring in the 14th guy. It seemed reasonable that Luther Head could be the guy to fill the final seat. But the Pacers Front Office isn't making any bold, trigger-finger happy moves.
August is usually the quietest month of the NBA year and it appears the Pacers are hoping to keep it that way. The non-Celtics deal shows the Pacers aren't rushing to fill the 14th spot with just anybody. It's hard to remember the last time it took such a long, calculated plan to get the right player to sit on the end of the bench in street clothes. But it's not a bad thing.
The Pacers have lots of options remaining, more so than in any other season, as a large contingent of solid players are waiting for somebody, anybody to offer them a contract besides some oil titan from the Middle East. The candidate list contains a wide palate of talent.
Some players could fit in nicely as a 10-minute, energy-charged bolt. Other players could be decent athletes stuck in a bad economy, ready to sign in October for rock-bottom prices. Then there's even the type of player who can change the entire atmosphere of the team -- welcome Allen Iverson to the saga of the 14th spot.
NBA.com's official free agent list still has 94 players compiled on the "available" portion of the spreadsheet. Pick your poison. If you prefer a young, up-and-coming point guard, well they've got that (Raymond Felton, Luther Head, Nate Robinson). If you're needing a fading veteran to help locker room leadership (Joe Smith, Malik Rose, Abdonal Foyle), this is your place. Hell, maybe you're only interested in a crazed, crying lunatic. Yes, he's on there too (Stephon Marbury anyone? Anyone? Hello? Is this 24-hour camera still on?).
Even good old Fred Jones is still on the market. So which of these players should the Pacers be calling? What happens to young A.J. Price? Luckily, the answer isn't needed anytime soon. Right now, half of the team is injured anyway, and it's unclear who will be 100 percent ready come October. So why not just wait and see how these injuries play out? Wait and see which players get desperate for NBA money. Wait and see.
As for who the 14th spot should be given to, well that's up for discussion. As much as I would love to finally watch Allen Iverson play on a daily basis (even a 34-year-old version of himself) as well as the financial dividends he would pay for the team, it's more likely to see Larry Bird start the season with a song-and-dance routine at center court than seeing Mr. Bird sign A.I.
Signing A.I. would link Bird's front office career to the former All-Star. If Iverson does well and overcomes the surly nature of a conservative fan base, then Bird might get to stay in Indiana a little longer. If Iverson would fail, however, Bird would be on the chopping block. It'd be difficult to overcome this one. The Detroit Pistons could take a chance on Iverson because their fan base leads the league in attendance even without him. The already ostracized fan base (and I'm referring to non-die hard fans of the franchise) who already think that Bird is a failure for players such as Jamaal Tinlsey, Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest, would end his tenure here quicker than a Jermaine O'Neal haymaker.
As much as Iverson would help sell tickets and jerseys, his addition in the 14th spot would change the entire make-up of the team. Everything that Bird built over the summer would be temporarily up in the air. Throw the staring lineup, the rotation and the playbook out the window. It's a high risk/high reward scenario. Either sign A.J. Price so he can play in 20 games, get some playing team and maybe become a third-string point guard in two years. Or, go all out.
I would commend Bird for bringing someone like Iverson into the franchise because it would be exactly the high risk/high reward to make the team immediately relevant again. But I would commend him more highly for sticking with someone like Price, who would help drive home the team's philosophy of building toward a better future. Could the economy drive this decision? I don't know. But it will be interesting to see where Bird goes with this last spot.
For the 14th roster position, this is your day in the spotlight.