You hear the cliché all the time in professional sports: this team is young and needs time to develop. Considering the current state of the Indiana Pacers, you might be inclined to buy into that theory. I respectfully decline to.
Currently mired in mediocrity in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and with a dismal 11-25 road record, they appear to be going nowhere quickly in terms of overall improvement.
There was the brief period of “new life” when unfairly embattled, again in my opinion, head coach Jim O’Brien was dismissed and they promptly went 7-3 in their first 10 games under interim coach Frank Vogel. A closer look would tell you that six of those games came against teams that will not make the playoffs this season. Hardly grounds for elation, but many pointed to it as a new dawning of sorts.
They then reversed their tracks in the next 10 games, going 3-7, and have played .500 basketball overall since the coaching change. With the futility that is rampant in the Eastern Conference, that will get you into the playoffs – but is simply getting in via the back door enough for this once proud franchise?
The reality is, the Pacers are not extremely athletic and that haunts them on a regular basis. This is a team without a superstar or a leader, and as a result one that needs contributions from everyone on both ends of the floor nightly to simply be in a position to compete.
While the recent improved play of Tyler Hansbrough has been something to be pleased with, there are still far too many players who are not meeting the expectations of Pacers President Larry Bird. Danny Granger has averaged 20 points a game but is shooting just 42 percent from the field as he continues to struggle with his identity on this team.
While Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert have shown flashes of what may be coming down the pike, they have been exploited defensively and are erratic on the offense end of the floor as well. Injuries to Mike Dunleavy and Jeff Foster have compounded the situation, and the Pacers currently 30-40 on the year, look destined to fade at the end of the season despite having seven of their final 10 games of the year at home.
But at times this group has played well, demonstrating great energy and resolve. It is that type of inconsistency that makes them hard to peg in terms of overall progress.
One thing is for certain, while they have played hard almost all of the time, you never know exactly what to expect from this team, and that uncertainty and lack of confidence, especially during crunch times, has really derailed what might have been a legit playoff berth, rather than one they fell into by default.
One thing is for certain. While there has been some progress this year, the inconsistent performance of this team makes you wonder if this core group, albeit young, has the necessary moxie to take it up a notch or two and be a contender in the playoff picture next season. Based on what I have seen this year, I would say no. Then again, I never thought they would even be mathematically hanging on to the final playoff spot in their division at this point in the season, so they have exceeded my expectations already.
Considering how meager that is, it is a shame these players could not put their petty differences aside and have gotten after it earlier in the year and given it their all under O’Brien. The myriad of games they gave away and should have won represents the difference between sneaking into the playoffs and perhaps hosting a series in the first round. Look no further than their inconsistency and personal selfishness as the reasons for that.
Danny Bridges, who feels the Pacers season ticket holders deserve at least a partial refund, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.
NOTES: In my opinion Frank Vogel has done a commendable job under dire circumstances. Regardless of how he finishes these last few games, I seriously doubt he will get consideration in terms of removing the interim tag, especially if Bird resigns. That is just the nature of the business and this polite, well-prepared coach, knows that as well as anyone.
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The Pacers return to the friendly confines of Conseco Fieldhouse on March 25 when they host the hapless Sacramento Kings. Tickets are still available at the fieldhouse box office or at Ticketmaster.com.
Pacer Darren Collison, 2, goes head to head with Derrick Rose, 1. The Pacers defeat the Bulls in overtime 115- 108. (Photos/ W. Thomas)