The Indiana Pacers laid a real goose egg in their 40th season in the Circle City. This season, full of promise just nine months ago, will come to a painful end tonight. The Pacers end their season tonight and will miss the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Missing the playoffs in the Eastern Conference is quite an accomplishment considering the lack of quality teams.
The Pacers will likely have hit the double whammy too. They gave up their number one draft pick in the Al Harrington trade. They could have retained the pick (thus becoming lottery eligible) had they ended up with one of the tenth worst records in the league. As it stands the Pacers will end up with the 11th worst record. So not only will they not make the playoffs but they won't have a draft pick either. The Pacers already traded their second round pick for James White, whom they cut. They won't have a draft pick in this year's draft which is considered one of the deepest in years.
Everyone will be looking to apportion the blame on someone. Some will point to the players. Some will point to Coach Rick Carlyle. Ultimately the blame will be placed on the Coach (as is customary in the NBA) and he will get his walking papers. However the real blame falls on the two making the decisions: the front office tandem of Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh.
Bird and Walsh are the ones who orchestrated some of the biggest bone headed trades in recent memory. First the traded Anthony Johnson, who had played his heart out during last years' playoffs. Then they traded Austin Croshere, a popular player on and off the court. In doing both trades they put their faith in Jamaal Tinsley and Marquis Daniels, the latter acquired from Dallas. Both have been injured for a good part of the season and both have had their off court troubles this season. The off court troubles of the current team have certainly contributed to the team's lack of fan support
The Pacers also abandoned their biggest off season acquisition, Al Harrington, way too soon. Before the trade the Pacers looked like a team destined for the playoffs. Afterward, they looked like a mess. The new roster never meshed well. Luckily the trade put them over the cap by an additional 32 million or so. So no draft picks and no reasonable chance to be a player in the free agent market. The Pacers may not be a playoff team for several years to come.
There will be a lot of pressure to trade the Pacers' centerpiece, Jeramine O'Neal. I hope the Pacers resist that urge. For one, O'Neal's contract is massive and I can't imagine there will be that much interest in bringing him into the fold by another team. Even if a trade took place it would only bring another player only of his caliber and carry the same financial baggage. Based on that, it would make no sense to move their most popular player. O'Neal's community involvement also deserves a lot of credit.
Larry Bird and especially Donnie Walsh have done a lot for the franchise. Because Walsh has done so much for the Pacers if he chooses not to retire, he has earned the chance to get the Pacers back on track. I am glad that task falls on him and not me. I wouldn't know where to begin with this group.
The Pacers have slashed ticket prices in response to its attendance problems. Ultimately if they don't put together a team of selfless players, the kind of team that defined the Pacers in the late nineties, it will little matter what the price is of admission if the fans can't wrap their arms around the team and their play.