A Daily Babble Production
The Celtics continue their quest for home court advantage throughout the playoffs when they host the Indiana Pacers at the Garden tonight. On the other side, the Pacers continue their thus far less successful quest for the final seed in the East playoffs, as they currently trail the Hawks by three games with eight to play. With Larry Legend at the helm and Jim O'Brien on the bench, the Pacers have their share of Beantown connections. All that in mind, we brought in Tom from Indy Cornrows for some insight to the future of his beloved franchise in turmoil...
SW: Give us a feel for the Pacers this year. What have been the top three themes or moments of the season thus far?
Tom: Really, the beginning (good), middle (bad), and end (better) of the season have all proven drastically different. Almost like three different teams combining for the one season. The start of the season began far better than expected. The team seemed to adapt quickly to Jim O'Brien's offensive system and the ball movement and pace of the game made for some actual excitement. Finishing games and the season turned out to be a problem, though. Somewhere in mid-December, double-digit leads began disappearing late, and W's quickly turned to L's. The lack of a go-to scorer down the stretch to finish out games was huge. Jamaal Tinsley was the best option, and he came through a few times, but once he went in the tank, the team had to re-invent itself.SW: As you may recall from our discussion earlier in the season, I enjoy following the career path of Jim O'Brien, who once coached my beloved team and now coaches yours. While his style isn't exactly known for breeding champions, he works very well with his players and always seems to get more out of them than is expected of him. What are your impressions of your first experiences with Obie-ball this year? And since I appear to be more of a fan of Obie's than some Celts fans, I feel obligated to ask on their behalf, how often does the pace drive you nuts?
Injuries to Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal forced the team to adjust. Bigger roles for Travis Diener and Kareem Rush were required, and, let's face it, that statement reveals a team forced to win by playing far greater than the sum of its parts. So from late December to late February, the Pacers struggled. Not only were they cobbling together different lineups, but the schedule also toughened. To date, the Pacers have used 19 different starting lineups. But even through the tough times, the team kept scrapping, rarely getting blown out by 20-plus points, even though it should have.
Over the past six weeks the team's play has continued to improve. Consistent contributions from Mike Dunleavy, and Danny Granger and Troy Murphy have kept the Pacers in every game. They are even producing in the final five minutes of games now. I may be the only one, but I sincerely admire the fight this team has shown to stay in every game.
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Tom: As I mentioned above, the team's resolve is incredible this year and I feel a direct reflection of Obie's impact. They won't give in, and part of that is because Obie won't tolerate it. Plus, the team really seems to be a tighter unit than the past couple of years. Obie makes them work hard, and putting in the work together really improves the team bond.SW: Yesterday, I chatted with Erick Ward of Bull Riding, and I asked him to handicap the Bulls' chances at a miracle playoff birth sitting four games behind the Hawks with nine to play. His answer was six words: "No chance. Not even a little." The Pacers have eight games remaining and sit three back of the Hawks. What are the chances this team plays deep into April? If they don't, who takes the eighth seed in the East?
The pace has yet to really drive me nuts. When it does, I just think back to the shackles the Rick Carlisle threw on fast break opportunities, and it passes. Now, to be honest though, when the Pacers are up six in the fourth quarter and a 3-ball goes up five seconds into the shot clock with no one underneath the hoop, it does give me pause.
Tom: The Pacers chances of making the playoffs are slim but remain possible. I outlined the projected path in this post. It seems like the Hawks are gathering steam and might not cooperate with my plan. To me, the Nets seem like the best team fighting for the last spot, but they have a tougher finish and can't seem to get it together. Interestingly, the C's play all three teams, and should they choose to rest a few key cogs (yes, it will take resting a few) tonight, they could really impact who they face in the first round. You have to admit, the Pacers look like the most favorable first round matchup. Of course, any of the three should end up as road kill. Between the math and the way they are playing, the Hawks should wind up with the final spot, which will actually be a good thing for the Pacers. The current team is just working so hard I'd like to see them rewarded with a playoff berth, but that's strictly my heart talking.SW: Of course, the Celtic ties in Indiana don't end with Obie. Larry Legend has had a rather tumultuous run in the front office in Indiana over the last couple of years, with mixed reviews about how responsible he is for the Pacers' problems. How do you assess the front office situation over the last four to five years in Indiana? Should Bird join Donnie Walsh on his way out the door? A set of unfortunate circumstances? Mismanagement with plenty of blame to go around? Are you sad to see Donnie go after more than two decades of service?
Tom: Larry Joe Legend is officially on the clock now. It stinks to lose Donnie Walsh, but at this point, his departure is overdue. When the recent rumors of Walsh staying or going were flying out of New York, I found it interesting that Bird made some rare media appearances and lobbied for one voice in the front office and for that one voice to be his. We now know that Walsh worked the deals for Artest and Jackson, and Bird brought in Obie and made the minor deals last summer that have worked out fine. There is plenty of blame to go around for the past, and it is not all on the front office. Walsh has always believed in redemption and had no problems giving guys second or third chances, but too many of those type of players stepped over the line and really embarrassed the franchise. Bird will have to handle the last phase of clean up, and how he deals with the roster this summer and Jamaal Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal in particular will ultimately set the stage for his success or failure. One more thing on Bird, the thing I love about him may be a weakness as a GM. He doesn't sugar coat anything, whether he's talking to the media, coaches, players, or other GMs. When you're dealing with agents or other teams, a little more diplomacy is needed. A blunt rebuff of offers from another GM may not help with negotiations down the road. I don't see Bird changing, so hopefully I'm wrong.SW: I wrote last week about the career year being had by swingman Mike Dunleavy. How do you explain Dunleavy's increased production? Did it catch you by surprise? Do you think the Pacers can bank on more of the same from him in the years to come?
Tom: Dunleavy showed flashes of what he's done this year toward the end of last year. His shot was just never consistent. This year, his shot has been with him all year. His production can float in and out, but when he is open, he's been knocking down shots all year. The floating production has really turned into more consistent production over the past two months, too. The big difference for Dun has been Obie's offense. Dun knows how to play without the ball and he can handle the ball in the open court. The motion creates a lot of opportunities for Dun to find shots.SW: Jermaine O'Neal returned to the lineup on Monday in hopes of providing a boost for the playoff run and proving to himself that he can still play at his peak. Are you buying that injuries are the reason JO got off to such a sow start this season? If not, what was? Can he return to his peak form? If not, what is his ceiling? Most importantly of all, is he still a guy worth building around in Indianapolis? Why?
Tom: It will be interesting to see how JO plays out the remainder of the year. His salary (two years left at $45 mil) has the franchise shackled with no cap room. Since no one would likely take on that contract through a trade, it would take a humanitarian effort on JO's part to opt out this summer. I love JO but really think he'd be better off elsewhere, and then the Pacers could move forward to a more prosperous future. JO brings great defense around the bucket, but as a max player he isn't a reliable go-to-guy down the stretch in games. He'd be incredible on a team where he was the third scoring option, but that's not the case in Indy. The knee was definitely holding him back earlier in the year. It was real easy to tell by the way he was moving around and was unable to elevate. He claims the knee is ready, and his goal is to prove he can dominate again next year. Problem is, we've heard these same positive comments two or three times in the past. I hope it is true this time, and if it happens with another team, I can live with it.SW: Jamaal Tinsley...argh. For a few glorious games at the beginning of the season, I thought he was on the verge of a career renaissance. How did it all break down, and can it ever be put back together for him in Indiana?
Tom: The Tin Man was incredible in November. He was loving the way Obie freed his game from Carlisle's play calling, and it showed, but then something happened in a film session, and Obie pushed the wrong button sending Tins into a funk. There was a game at Phoenix when the Pacers blew a nice lead and Tinsley took every shot in the final few minutes of the game and then in overtime. At that point, he was the only guy able to close out a game, but this was ridiculous. Then he went a game without taking a shot. Strange days, indeed. Plus, his knee started going on him, and just like JO, you can tell when a guy is out there on a bad wheel. With Tinsley, 80 percent isn't worth having. He has to be into it mentally and 100 percent ready to go physically. I will be shocked if Tins is wearing blue and gold next October.SW: Is there a long-term plan going forward for this team? If so, what is it, and what's your outlook on it?
Tom: The team needs to acquire assets -- young talent, draft picks or cap space -- so it can have some flexibility moving forward. All of this really hinges on JO at this point and how his situation works out this summer. It will probably take at least another year before JO is movable, so the quick fix will take some Larry Joe Legend magic. I like the way the young core of players is developing, but a high impact game changer is needed somehow, some way, before things get real exciting around here again.SW: Always need one question to put you in between the fan bases, and we're focusing on spark plugs off the bench today: Kareem Rush or Eddie House? Why?
Tom: This is funny because I often hear people ragging on Eddie House's game (or at least I did until Sam arrived), but whenever I saw him play, Eddie made shots and was a general nuisance to the opposition. I'll stick with Kareem Rush, though. Rush is not merely World B. Free 2.0. The guy really raised his defensive game this year. Again, a nod of affirmation to Obie for demanding it, but at one point during the year, Rush was the best defender on the floor. His minutes have been sporadic over the past couple of months, but I'll stick with Rush. I would love to get both Rush and House on a stopwatch, feed them a series of different passes and see the time it takes from touch to release for both guys.SW: Got a score prediction for tonight's game?
Tom: Unless Doc realizes that the C's should let the Pacers win to improve their chances of meeting in the first round of the playoffs, I have to stick with the projected L for the Pacers. 112-98, Celtics.Look at this: Not only are our guests insightful, but they also know what sort of predictions they need to be making in order to be invited back! In all seriousness, we can't thank Tom enough for providing us a great set of thorough answers. You're more than welcome back anytime, sir.