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Let's Talk About the Rotations, Coach

In looking forward to the upcoming season, it’s pretty well assumed Coach Jim O’Brien may be entering his last stint as the Pacers head coach, of course, barring a Tom Coughlin championship run. But since even starting 0-2 won’t turn the 2010-11 season into a championship one, it’s going to be an interesting proposition when looking at how O’Brien expects to iron out his playing rotations: does he look for the franchise’s best long term interest and tip his cap to the youth getting extended minutes in the case of a bad month of four, or will he head into the sunset, guns ablaze, clawing out every victory in the misguided name of momentum?

For all the flak Coach gets, and there’s plenty to go around, he was asked to come in and change the mentality of the franchise into a positive and upbeat one, and push them towards the future. His part in that future was always a bit foggy in my mind and though the Pacers have waded just nose above water under Obie, as if to say, "We’re in trouble, but it’s not like we’re drowning," he did the initial job he was asked to do. Like Donnie Walsh held off the hiring of Larry Brown for his team to mature, so seems the same of Larry Bird, satisfied with the "interim" nature of O’Brien’s tenure.

O’Brien’s vision of change, decked out in full promotional splendor with Mr. Bird, discussing the pride and passion that would become the team’s mantra, even if they didn’t show it a lot last year, was a success. For all the negatives that came out of the 2006-07 season, none more annoying to me than the recent rash of Rick Carlisle apologists, Jim O’Brien made the Pacers fun to watch again. Even as Jamaal Tinsley shot the Pacers out of games (while shooting other things off the court) and Jermaine O’Neal kept playing the angle of team leader, the Pacers had become fun to watch again.

Of course, while going so far as to call O’Brien’s time in Indiana a success would be a bit of a stretch, he accomplished the task he was given…even if he is still hanging out stealing drinks from the fridge and watching movies with us. The biggest issue I’ve had with O’Brien in his tenure, aside from the apparently misguided "they tuned him out!" exclamation made last season as we were all bitter about the Super Bowl and the fifteen feet of snow that was probably piled up outside, and possibly his entire sniper philosophy, would have just about everything to do with his player rotations.

And we all saw it. Time and time again.

We saw it two years ago when we couldn’t figure out why Roy Hibbert was never given a chance against teams that ran, or why Stephen Graham would start one night, and not play for the next week. Or how about Josh McRoberts’ entire time as a Pacer to this point? To make it short, how about the minute distribution of every player who wasn’t Danny Granger or Troy Murphy (or apparently Brandon Rush)? What about the 25 different starting lineups in 2009-10? Sure injuries play a part in these things, but not to the extent the lineups and rotations played out.

This is certainly going to be one of the biggest areas to keep an eye on as the season gets underway since it could very well affect the team beyond this season. It took T.J. Ford benching himself in March to get A.J. Price extended minutes, where he showed capabilities as a competent scorer. Even as Obie drove the point home that Price wasn’t a starter, he showed worth to the team down the stretch in extended minutes, averaging 8.7 PPG as the Pacers closed out the year on a positive note.

O’Brien is good at seeing a player who’s playing well and getting them on the floor, but he’s not terribly forgiving when it comes to letting a player work through their issues on the floor, opting to limit their game action and hope for the best. This could be a major problem for the rookies this season, who will all need to show competent growth through the year. With an apparently healthy Mike Dunleavy and a crowded front court, it creates an interesting scenario for any of these guys.

Coach seems on board with giving Hibbert a consistent set of minutes, hoping the big fella can up his minutes to about 35 a night. Roy’s spot in the rotation as one of the top guys on the team will be important given the lack of talent depth up front. With Tyler Hansbrough and A.J. Price cleared to return to the floor, it’ll open up an interesting rotation battle. When looking at a training camp where everyone is (at least right now) capable of participating, O’Brien has nothing to hold back in ironing out his player rotations.

While things will change from month to month (hopefully that means the rookies get increased minutes for the good they’ve done, not the bad the team has done), the setting of the initial rotation shouldn’t be overturned without major reason to do so. That reason doesn’t include limiting Dahntay Jones because he’s not a three point shooter. O’Brien needs to find room in the rotation for the strengths in each of his players. D.Jones and James Posey have a lot they can offer the team on and off the floor, and they are deserving of consistent playing time, whereas Jones didn’t get that consistent playing time.

Consistency helps team chemistry, which helps take an otherwise average team and push them to a higher level. Player rotations and players knowing their roles within a team aid that chemistry. Where players deserve to fit into the rotation should become clearer as camp and preseason begin, but what comes out of it would benefit the team in finding consistency in the rotations. It’ll be up to Jim O’Brien to make use of that rotation in both a short term and long term situation; after all, the 2010-11 season is not a championship one. Fielding 25 different starting lineups and limiting the floor time of the young guys won’t make it one.