There have been quite a few inconsistencies with this year’s version of the Indiana Pacers, but coaching is not one of them.
Despite the defensive lapses, questionable shot selection, carelessness with the basketball and yes, some injuries, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan hasn’t thrown any of his players under the bus with the media. It’s just not the style of the always focused and articulate McMillan, who has seen his team struggle mightily against the better teams in the NBA and not complain about it publicly to date. Sure, he’s detailed explicitly in many a post game press conference about how “We have to screen, rebound, and defend better,” but that standard mantra can be heard from any coach in the NBA who has grown tired of watching their team self destruct as opposed to being outplayed on many occasions.
Expectations coming into the season were high, considering the addition of Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young, to a roster that included perennial All-Star Paul George and second year standout Miles Turner. Many felt that when you combine the aforementioned with Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles and free agent acquisition Al Jefferson, the Pacers should make some noise in the Eastern Conference. But at best, it’s been a work in progress for this roster, one that no doubt has tested their patient coach. One night his troops are playing well on the road, winning a game in which they were underdogs, and the next they are laying an egg at home against a team they should throttle, hence the disparity in their home and away records to date.
Through it all, McMillan has remained steadfast in how he addresses his team’s performance in the media, giving them much more than the benefit of the doubt. That’s the classy way to handle it and undoubtedly his players are thankful for it. The flip side of that coin is when a team reaches a certain level of mediocrity; the coach has to start calling them out more. That’s where this situation is currently.
It’s not just about turnovers, missed free throws, failing to block out, improperly defending the pick and roll and jacking up ill advised three point shots early in the shot clock. It’s about pride, determination, mental toughness and old fashioned hustle.
As we speak, this team is failing miserably in all those categories. As we go to print, the Blue and Gold are 29 up and 26 down, which entitles them to a number six seed in the playoffs. Not exactly where all the experts predicted they would be at this point, and just a smidgen better than the .500 record this old scribe predicted before the season began.
Can they find an inner groove and climb up in the standings? Sure, plenty of time for that you say. Well…maybe. If their performance to date is an indicator, then no…it probably won’t happen.
Regardless, McMillan can’t be lackadaisical in holding this group accountable. Yes, I know there is a difference in what a coach tells his team in private and how he converses with the media about them. However, when the quality of play becomes embarrassing (and it has folks) it becomes the obligation of the coach to call it as he sees it. Styles may vary and opinions may differ, but this group has made the coaching staff look bad and I can’t imagine an old school guy like McMillan biting his tongue much longer. He always played the game with everything he had, and was a leader to boot. Both his teammates and opponents respected him and knew they’d have to compete at a high level to defeat him on the court.
Right now the opposition is simply showing up and allowing the Pacers to hand them victories, and that trend has to subside. One thing is for certain, as the Pacer brass sits just a few feet away each game monitoring the overall situation, they too have grown tired of the up and down year this group of underachievers has provided to date. There’s a way to address that, and it starts with the coach not being so cordial to his troops and calling out play that is both lethargic and unacceptable.
Speak up Nate, before its too late. You’re a damn fine coach and you know the game. Expect more from your team and instill your spirit. These guys aren’t giving you one hundred percent every night, and its time to demand nothing less. It’s OK to get mad and rip them, and even make practices long and grueling. You’re the voice of this franchise. Its time you raised it. Loud and clear.