Even when the packaging and presentation gets on your nerves, Terrell Owens does at least know what he’s talking about. Last December, during the dog days of another bad season for his Cincinnati Bengals , T.O. laid it out on his talk show:
“I think there is underachieving from the top down,” Owens said. “You start off with the owner, you start off with the coaches, and obviously we as players. We are a product of what the coaches are doing, are coaching us throughout the course of the week. Of course we have to go out there and play the game, but in order for us to do what we’re allowed to do at the best of our ability the coaches have to put the players in the best position.”
T.O. could have been talking about the Indiana Pacers. Sporting an 18-27 record and in 10th place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, the Pacers’ underachieving ways culminated over the weekend when head coach Jim O’Brien was fired. While assistant-turned-interim leader Frank Vogel won his debut game last night against Toronto, moving forward, no one seems to now what the Pacers are going to do.
Team president Larry Bird doesn’t know if he’ll be back next year. Vogel doesn’t know how long this interim gig will last. Four players who have played key roles this season — Mike Dunleavy Jr., Jeff Foster, T.J. Ford and Josh McRoberts — are in the last year of their contracts. With all of that uncertainty, surely stars Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert are wondering how the team and the system will look beyond this season.
So where does Indiana go from here? According to Yahoo! Sports, the Pacers are going to have Vogel finish the season, then they’re expected to target Mike Brown for a full-time head coaching position. And if Bird leaves his current post — which could also spell the end for current GM David Morway — former Portland Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard is rumored to be a strong candidate to take on a high-ranking position in the front office.
As a Pacers fan, I actually like both potential moves. As much criticism as Brown received (some of it from me) during his stint in Cleveland, he’d be going into a different situation with Indiana. There is no LeBron, meaning there are no immediate championship expectations. The Pacers are almost like a wayward college program right now: They need a guy who the players will respect (Brown has been to the NBA Finals and has a Coach of the Year trophy), who gets along with the players while stressing simple things like defense and fundamentals.
Not to say O’Brien wasn’t an upstanding guy and a dedicated coach, but somewhere along the way, he lost his players. All players really want is a coach who puts them in position to win, and Brown has been around the block enough times to (I believe) work toward that. (Utah assistant Tyrone Corbin is also rumored to be high on Indiana’s list. He would also be a good pick — a former NBA player whom current players would automatically respect, one who learned under Jerry Sloan.)
In regards to Pritchard, not long ago he was the hottest front-office executive in the League, the man credited with rebuilding the Blazers into a budding contender. He was involved in acquiring Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Nic Batum and Rudy Fernandez, and put Portland in good position with a solid young core. The fact that those guys started to fall apart due to injuries and homesickness isn’t all Pritchard’s fault. So if the Bird era is coming to a close, I’d definitely take Pritchard if he wants the job, either to work alongside Morway or begin a new regime as the primary personnel guy.
The Pacers’ core is in place. Hibbert (24) and Darren Collison (23) are the building blocks at center and point guard. Granger is the go-to scorer. Paul George, Lance Stephenson, Brandon Rush and Tyler Hansbrough are part of the future. The new front office wouldn’t have to come in and make major splashes right away, but it would have a lot of salary cap space in 2011 in case the right players are available.
The best thing working in the favor of whoever assumes leadership of the Pacers is that expectations are relatively low. This team doesn’t have to be turned into a championship contender right away. Patience will be on their side … at least for the first year.