For many, it's that precious time of year when gifts are given, gifts are received, and friends and family gather together to greet, mingle, and bicker away.
It's also a convenient time for fans to reflect on whether the team they root for is giving as much as its receiving, and chances are if your team is sitting 10+ games below .500, it's scoring pretty low on the satisfaction scale.
Of course when I say "team" I mean the Indiana Pacers. Your Indiana Pacers. So what can the Blue and Gold do better to satisfy your needs? Score a great draft pick? Trade everyone not named Paul George? Hire Chip Kelly to run the offense?
The beauty of sports--and fandom in general--is that there really isn't a wrong answer to the first question. What you consider "satisfying" might be wholly different from the fan next to you, and vice versa, which often results in fascinating debate.
In that spirit, I've included my personal, five-pronged wish list for the Pacers below. But first let me issue a warning: none of what you're about to read involves one-sided trade demands or angry calls for him, him, and him to be fired. In fact, a few of the items have nothing to do with the on-court product at all, and are meant to be--gasp!--lighthearted with tongue firmly planted in cheek. With that being said, let me introduce my 2014 Pacers' Christmas Wish List.
Wish list Item #1: For Solomon Hill To Develop Into A Solid Starter
Maybe it's just a bad case of Lack-Of-Young-Players-With-Potential-itis, but I'm becoming somewhat enamored with Solomon Hill. During a season in which the Pacers have been about as watchable as a Golden Girls rerun, he's been one of the few bright spots.
That doesn't mean he hasn't had rough moments. He's shooting a woeful 39% from the field along with 30% from three, and he continues to go through stretches where you barely notice him on the court. But he's warranted some nod-your-head moments as well, demonstrating an impressive blend of tenacious perimeter defense and offensive playmaking on a team starved for both in the absence of Paul George and George Hill.
I've been kicking around the Solo/Wesley Matthews comparison for a few weeks now. I admit, it's not a perfect comp, but there are some similarities, mostly in regard to physique. They're both stocky, low-maintenance wings who lack explosive athleticism, but can guard multiple positions with competence and confidence. Where Matthews is emphatically superior is on the offensive side of the ball, and he has been since his rookie season. He's always been a legitimate three-point threat (career 39% from long-range), and over time, he's developed into an adequate ball handler and mid-range-game extraordinnaire.
If Solo ever wants to make good on my vision for him, he's going to have to improve his shooting dramatically. Like 2014-2015 Jimmy Butler dramatically. But if he manages to do so, he'd be the perfect complement to Paul George. They'd share defensive responsibilities on the perimeter, and with an improved shot and solid handle, Solo might even be able to give PG a breather or two on offense. The best part? He'd do it without the choke signs, stat chasing, ear blows, and media raucous.
Wish list Item #2: Here We Go Again: Offense, Please
I'm done with the "just play like the Spurs" mantra. It had so many flaws to begin with, I have no idea why I ever believed it could be a snap-your-fingers-and-be-done affair. I think we get caught up so much in the "Pop's a genius..." "Pop's interviews are hilarious..." "Pop's a pioneer..." hoopla that we sometimes lose sight of one key element behind the Spurs' winning formula: San Antonio's got three future Hall of Famers, a score of good rotation players, and pretty much nobody else does. The Pacers can preach the extra-pass, open-shot philosophy all they want, but without uber-talented players capable of executing it at a high level, it won't lead to the same result.
So, I'm off that train and onto something a bit more simplistic: I don't need an offensive assistant like Mike D'Antoni to try to fit a square peg into a round hole, or a Jim O'Brien reunion, or for Frank Vogel to undertake the impossible task of mimicking one of the greatest coaches to ever don a casual sportscoat. I simply want more talented players on the roster utilizing an offense catered to their strengths. And in truly state-the-obvious form: Jahlil Okafor would be a nice start.
Wish list Item #3: No More Sugarcoating the Unsugarcoatable
The Pacers have good team-rebounding numbers, so this'll probably come off as nitpicking, but I'm just a tad fed up with the "David and Roy block out so their teammates can get rebounds" shpill when it comes to explaining their mediocre rebounding numbers.
A) Let me first acknowledge that there is some truth to the above statement, but only some. What I don't understand is B) why must we be led to believe that it's an either-or proposition?
"Either David and Roy block out and allow their teammates to get a bunch of rebounds, OR they don't block out and..." What? They don't block out and suddenly they corral all the rebounds themselves? Or their teammates are suddenly incapable of crashing the boards?
Nonsense. I know that's not what Pacers' brass is saying, but that's kind of what it feels like. Here's an idea: how about finding a big man (or two) who can block out and rebound at the same time?
Mel Daniels did it. Dale Davis did it. Kevin Love does it. Omer Asik does it. Heck, bench plodders like Reggie Evans and Lavoy Allen do it, too. It's sort of been a tried-and-true method since the NBA's inception: big men clear space with their superhuman-sized bodies and clean the glass. Unless your name's David West or Roy Hibbert, apparently. Then it's about "do one thing, but don't worry about the other."
Well, I'm not buying it anymore. It's time to call a Cocker Spaniel a Cocker Spaniel or whatever the saying is. The Pacers starting big men are mediocre rebounders. End. Of. Story. And I long for the day when the Pacers add a starting-capable big who uses his size for more than one or two specialized things. Did I mention Jahlil Okafor would be a nice start?
Wish list Item #4: For Chris Copeland To Lose The Headband
It's not that I don't like headbands, it's just ... well, 1) headbands feel so early 2000s, don't they? Back when Allen Iverson accessorized his on-court apparel like a runway model? No one should have to be the guy clinging to outdated fashion trends, Cope included. 2) On the flipside, he can't be using it for sweat purposes, can he? Cope's already got a healthy mane of dreads to sop up any and all facial/head perspiration ... which means he's definitely using it for reasons of appearance, and therefore 3) should disband immediately. There are serious consequences at play here beyond questionable fashion sense. Headband + healthy mane of dreads = head-swell radius of M.O.D.O.K.
Cope's playing for a new contract, the last thing he needs is to get a casting call from Michael Bay to tryout for the role of Krang in the next Ninja Turtles movie, or something else like it. Lastly, why would anyone wear a headband after seeing what it did to LeBron's hairline?
Wish list Item # 5: Pacers Championship For ?
This isn't so much a wish as it is a curiosity. Maybe a few of you followed the Chris Conte story published a week or so ago on the Four Letter Network. In case you missed it, here's a quick summary: Conte, a safety for the Chicago Bears, publicly declared that he'd trade 10-15 years of his life for the experience of playing in the NFL. It sparked quite the national debate, and got me thinking: how many years of your life would you give up to see the Pacers win a championship, if any?
Back when I was a teenager, and literally broke down into tears when the Pacers lost game four of the Finals against the Lakers, I might've been tempted to say something outrageous like our friend Chris Conte. I was way more emotionally invested, then. But now? Child please, I'm already giving the team my money and bloodshot eyeballs, forget about giving up a portion of my lifespan, too.
Of course, I don't speak for everyone, so what say you? What would you give up to see the Pacers win the Big One?
-For the Pacers to get really serious about continuity and purchase their own D-League affiliate.
-For Paul George to be gifted Wolverine's healing powers, plus a dash of adamantium to along with'em.
-For a 30-second peak at the Pacers' current draft board
-To be sucked into a vortex where Stanko Barac, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Peja Stojakovic, Detlef Schrempf, Damjan Rudez, and Primoz Brezec lead the Blue and Gold to multiple championships.
Merry Christmas, X-mas, Holidays, Hanukkah, Real NBA Opening Day, or whatever else you may be celebrating this December.