Indy .500 Long Way Off for Pacers
The Indiana Pacers don't have that luxury. What you see now is all you'll get next season, too. Their hope for the future is much further away.
Once one of the league's most consistent winners -- 16 playoff appearances in 17 years -- the Pacers are stuck below mediocre for another two seasons. And this won't be pretty.
They are paying for past sins.
When the decision was made to clean up the roster -- stemming partially from the notorious brawl with Detroit in 2004 and several other unsavory off-the-court incidents -- they sentenced themselves to a long and painful rebuilding process.
By dumping Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley -- good players, questionable characters – and getting little in return except for average players and bad contracts, they changed the course of the franchise.
Unfortunately, they have a team now without stars (although Danny Granger did make his first All-Star team last season), which is a sure recipe for failure.
"We don't have anyone who can command double teams all the time,'' Pacers forward Troy Murphy said. "And that makes things tougher all around.''
And unlike the Knicks, Nets, Timberwolves, and Bulls, some other bad teams, the Pacers won't have the salary cap space to jump into the free-agent market this summer. Sure, they'll get a high draft pick, but that could take years to develop. For them, relief in the form of a star won't come until 2011 when they can become the biggest player in the free-agent market.
"If you want to win and win big, you have to have more than one star,'' conceded Pacers coach Jim O'Brien. "Look at the top five teams in the league, they all have multiple stars.''
The Pacers (8-14) are a perfect example of the way it works in today's NBA. On Monday, they played the Magic close -- even led throughout -- but faltered down the stretch when All-Stars Dwight Howard and Vince Carter took control. They played hard. They played smart, but they had no answer for Howard and Carter at the end.
Granger is out for another five weeks with a foot/arch injury. And there was nowhere else to turn when they really needed a basket. Guys like Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Dahntay Jones are nice role players, but they don't carry a team.
The Pacers won 35, 36 and 36 games in each of the last two seasons. Those totals won't rise this season or next. It's the price they are paying for loading and then unloading their team of talented but troubled players.
The remake of the current team is going to be dramatic. But it's not going to change overnight. Right now, 2011 just sounds like a long time away.