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Desperation time for Bird, Pacers as basketbrawl still lingers


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By Frank Therber




INDIANAPOLIS – Just as Indianapolis saw after the Pacers controversially drafted Reggie Miller in 1987 and the Colts had the guts to pass up Ryan Leaf – gasp – for Peyton Manning in the spring of 1998, Cleveland is now witnessing the results of a franchise-changer hitting the city in the heroics of LeBron James.

The effects of a franchise-changer have sent a dire message to Pacers Sports and Entertainment: Get one. Someone. A John Wall, an Evan Turner – anyone. Someone to finally start the climb out of the hole the November 2004 brawl in Detroit dug for the Pacers. It really can’t be any simpler for an organization that has suffered almost unprecedented circumstances and too many image issues to count in the last five years.

Evidenced by another double-digit loss to the Cavs Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, this isn’t just any draft.

It’s the draft – especially with the number of high-flyers like Wall, Turner, DeMarcus Cousins and Cole Aldrich expected to be floating around in the lottery. It’s the draft that the Pacers need to halt the periodic half-hearted efforts and formerly unfamiliar, one-sided blowouts.

Friday, the Pacers caught a glimpse of the greatness they used to know and the greatness the Cavs and Lakers are currently experiencing in their franchise-changers James and Kobe Bryant, respectively.

“We played two championship contenders (the last two games) and they played like it,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said after his team’s loss. “We just didn’t have enough bullets in our guns.”

Everything points back to the bullets – or cups – fired at that fateful game between the Pacers and Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills. This was a 61-21 team in 2003-04 and returned all of its key talent. In my opinion, the Pacers have avoided cleaning house and an all-out rebuilding process as long as possible. Now, it’s time; it’s the break-’em-down-to-build-’em school of thought.

Change is imminent. It has to be.

Whether it’s the front office, coaching staff or major roster changes, something along with the draft has to happen to jumpstart the reform. In addition, the monetary issue here has already caused a major shake-up with the Pacers’ lease on Conseco Fieldhouse.

Indianapolis’ Capital Improvement Board, which owns the arena, has already said it can’t afford to front the Pacers’ dues.

In a sense, it’s sad.

It’s sad to see a storied franchise in the heartland of basketball going through the problems it faces on the court and in its financial department, especially after owner Herb Simon and his later brother Melvin saved the club from relocating in the late-80’s.

But in another sense, the basketball meltdown is an inevitable result of management’s past moves. Moves it didn’t have to make; moves it never should have made. These were the types of moves that could only bring the nightmares the Pacers are experiencing.

To this day, I am still puzzled – no, dumbfounded – as to why the Pacers gave away the good guy identity for some years.

Back in the days of the shaved heads, black socks and pin-stripes, this was a club which feasted on drafting Bill Polian-esque players – guys who weren’t the focus of CBS’s college highlight reels every Saturday. I mean, was Rik Smits a Pontiac Game-Changing Performer at Marist?

Now it’s time for that game-changer – a LeBron or a Shaq. Wall is the perfect example of what the Pacers need; someone who can turn a team around and solve the dollar issues. But to what extent is team President Larry Bird willing to go to make this happen? The answer needs to be as far as possible.

Both he and new General
Manager David Morway have no room for error, not now. Not with Jamaal Tinsley’s contract fiasco and the loss of a draft pick after Al Harrington’s short return to the team happening on their watch.

The three-year rebuilding plan isn’t working, there has not been improvement. It’s time to divide and conquer. This is a thing on which Bird and Morway can’t have a limit to the extent they’re willing to go, or else the Pacers’ future might.

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