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So What Are Your Expectations For The Pacers?

Last week I was out of town and only saw three quarters of the three preseason games before watching the Houston game last night. But I've been astounded by the venom and despair in my email box, not to mention some comments and various FanPosts with folks freaking out over the performance of the team during the three preseason losses.

So I have a question: What are your expectations for this season?

Recently, I previewed the season and figured a middle-of-the-road win total would be 36 games which I think leaves a margin for error of about +/- 7 games depending on health issues and players performing to their career averages.

That's not real good, but I felt the team could certainly improve this year while not necessarily winnng many more games than last year.

For me the excitement of this season centers around the different storylines and how they emerge. The Pacers could've kept Troy Murphy around, hoped everyone stayed healthy and made a solid run at 45 wins, while likely winning closer to 40. Instead they've finally turned over some responsibility to youth with an eye toward developing the young core.

Consider the starting lineup for the current roster the Pacers are taking into the season. Darren Collison, Roy Hibbert and Josh McRoberts are all 23 years old and still in the process of developing their NBA games. Do you really think they're going to deliver cosistent production through an 82-game season?

Another area of interest is Paul George and the playing time he may earn as a rookie. The 20-year-old rook has shown some defensive acumen that may get him on the court for more than spot minutes this year. Personally, I wasn't expecting George to play much as he developed his body and game for the NBA, but it looks like he'll have a chance to play early in the season. Now if he can just make a shot or two he may be a regular.

But I'd rather see George out there playing and missing shots in an NBA crash course than have him going months at a time without any significant minutes. That's not good for the Pacers win/loss record, though.

Of course, these are practice games (as Mark Boyle would put it) that the Pacers are losing and Jim O'Brien is giving the young players, especially George, a good chunk of the playing minutes despite how well they are playing. I still expect Mike Dunleavy to play more minutes in the regular season as the team tries to win, but if George can sneak into the tail end of the rotation I'll be quite happy.

The other mystery to me is how people are so split on Josh McRoberts. McRoberts seems like the least of the Pacers' worries right now and I'm wondering if those who complain simply haven't seen him play. His game has developed by leaps and bounds since he arrived here as trade filler and effort is never an issue nor has his production when he's on the court. I'm not saying he's the final answer for the team's power forward of the future, but I also wouldn't completely rule it out. Energy/effort guy off the bench would be wonderful, but again, that's not where the team is right now.

One last thing to consider is the coaching situation. There's going to have to be a player mutiny for Jim O'Brien to be fired this year. Larry Bird stated over the summer that with the team in a state of transition, waiting on a coaching change is prudent considering that the roster will be drastically different next year combined with the NBA labor situation which will impact how they can put the future roster together. It would be kind of hard to attract a quality coach who doesn't know which players he'll be coaching.

Not to mention, Bird is in the last year of his contract so he's not sure if he'll be back whether by his choice or the team's. A new leader in the front office would want to choose the coach, so any coaching change this year, including Bird coming down from the front office, would be an interim situation at best.

So when you consider these few issues, alongwith other unmentioned issues (trade talk, injuries, adversity), we're dealing with a situation that is ripe for frustration. I realize I may be more numb to some of this than most, but we're just three practice games into the preseason schedule and from some of the reaction thus far, we're trending toward a complete meltdown before Thanksgiving. My hope is that's not the case, because even a frustrating season can still be interesting to follow.

While I felt the need to serve up a little sanity check on everyone's expectations, this is by no means intended to discourage discussion, debate or dissent among the community about each game or the day's events. In fact, quite the contrary.

Identifying problems is easy, but offering a take on those problems with potential solutions is intriguing. Let me encourage you to dig deeper into the issues. Instead of blanket statements about certain players or the coaching, offer some details or examples for others to chew on. Many of you are fabulous at just this, so please continue sharing your thoughts and observations. Also, I continue to appreciate how the community can police itself through heated debate and keep the personal attacks to a minimum.

Look, we're all in this together so we might as well make it interesting. Hopefully the Pacers will do their part and make things more interesting than expected.