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REVIEW: INVICTUS A MISS FOR EASTWOOD

Larry Bird will fire Indiana’s players before he fires the coach

By 12.28.09
Danny Granger (photo. Stephen Hill)

Danny Granger (photo. Stephen Hill)


Almost every time an NBA coach gets fired, somebody asks me, “Why don’t they fire the players?” My answer as always: “It just doesn’t work that way.”

Apparently Larry Bird is willing to challenge the norm. With the Indiana Pacers struggling at 9-20 (last place in the Central Division), some have been calling for coach Jim O’Brien to get fired. Bird, the team president, doesn’t approve. From the Indianapolis Star:

Bird, frustrated like everybody else about the team’s problems, said he has no intention of changing coaches. If anything changes, it will be the roster, he said.

“Jim is going to be here, that’s one thing the players have to know,” Bird said today. “The coach is secure. We wouldn’t have picked up his option if we didn’t think he was secure. If the players have a problems with Jim, the players are the ones that are probably going to leave.”

Obviously the foot injury that has kept All-Star and leading scorer Danny Granger out of action since Dec. 6 has been a major issue, but it’s just one of a series of problems. Mike Dunleavy Jr. — who missed almost all of last season with knee problems — is back in the lineup but his production has slipped (12.1 ppg, 1.8 apg); Dunleavy shot 1-for-10 in a blowout loss to Miami last night, and 2-for-17 in a loss to the Bucks last week. T.J. Ford has been frustrating as ever with his decision-making and recently lost his starting job to Earl Watson. Second-year pro Brandon Rush has also been a disappointment (7.7 ppg, 38% FG), going into the season as the starting two-guard and also losing his job to Dahntay Jones. The team’s over-arching problems — like late-game execution, too many turnovers, poor defense and inability to field a consistently productive lineup — are usually those that fall under the category of bad coaching, but Bird is nonetheless committed to his guy.

On a positive note, rookie Tyler Hansbrough (9.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) has been solid, Roy Hibbert (9.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg) has made positive progress towards maybe being a borderline All-Star in the future, Troy Murphy is not far below his double-double production last season (14.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg), and offseason pickups Watson and Jones have made positive impacts on both ends of the floor.

Bird told the Star he’s been talking to other teams about trades, but the Pacers might be better off just bottoming out this season and hoping to land John Wall or Evan Turner or Xavier Henry: NBA-ready players who can score and boost the offense. In this period where Granger has been out, I’ve seen Indiana roll out a regular crunch-time lineup of Ford, Jones, Dunleavy, Murphy and Hansbrough. Opponents don’t even need to bring out a defensive specialist for that group.

The Pacers don’t have enough cap space in 2010 to pick up a major free agent unless they do a sign-and-trade. Their best bet is to commit to building around a core of Granger, Hibbert, Hansbrough, and whoever they get in the Draft. Any and everybody else should be considered potential trade bait.

“I don’t like what I’m seeing,” Bird said. “Going in, we expected to compete and be in every game. I thought last year we played very hard and had a chance to make the playoffs at the end. The play on the court now, it’s no excuse, we have to be able to compete on a nightly basis.”


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