Saturday, June 27, 2015

Is it Time for Larry Bird to Go?


This has been an interesting off season for the Indiana Pacers. After missing the playoffs in 2015, both Larry Bird and Frank Vogel indicated a desire to "go small" next season and move Paul George to the four spot.

They followed up their public comments by drafting Myles Turner with the eleventh pick in the draft with the expectation he might be a stretch 4 or stretch 5. I really like Turner for his potential defense at the rim but I think it's a little too much to expect a guy who shot 27 percent from the college three point line to be a factor from NBA three point distance.

With the whole league ready to dig a grave for the old school post player, it seems before you know it, we'll just have five 6'9" guys standing on the three point line.

The problem with the league now isn't that there's been some stroke of coaching genius to stretch the four spot, it's that it's almost impossible for anyone to get good position on the low block. Unlike the perimeter where you can't touch anyone or it's a foul, in the post it's a slugfest that allows bigs to be pushed completely out to the three point line before they can get the ball.

Coaches have recognized that you aren't allowed to post up on the low block anymore. But I think it's a mistake for Indiana to abandon a strategy that got them to two straight Eastern Conference finals just a season ago.

Let's not forget that in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Pacers were eliminated by the same Miami Heat team three years in a row - the last two times in the Eastern Conference finals. And let's also not forget that the Heat had one of the best players in NBA history in Lebron James. While the Heat had Chris Bosh to stretch Indy's defense, he actually failed the Heat with last second shots to beat Indiana more than once.

Not to mention that in order to beat Indy in some of those playoff games, it took some dirty play against Collison, Stephenson and Hansbrough to accomplish it. I'll take that season any day if that's what has to go down for the Pacers to lose.

Of course, getting that close to the NBA Finals and missing out hurts but the reason we lost those games was not because we played big and even if it was, it's my contention that even if we had been able to go small in those games, the result would have been the same. The Pacers would have lost anyway because Lebron was there and the league is an entertainment business first, and sport second.

I say that because the Pacers have had some great teams since 1994 and have had eight conference finals trips and only one Finals visit. And that visit in 2000 was just a repayment by the league for getting royally screwed on that 4 point play in New York. If that doesn't happen in 1999, there's no finals visit in 2000.

An Eastern Conference finals berth IS a championship for Indiana.

When you look at last year, Paul George didn't even play due to his injury and the Pacers still almost made the playoffs and because of that I think it's a knee jerk reaction to ditch a game plan that was working when your best player didn't even play last year.

Since George usually has a size advantage at small forward and if you move him to the four, it negates that. I think it's going to take a lot more effort on his part to guard a four.

But the real strength of Indiana and secret to their success was first and foremost it's team chemistry and it's willingness to share the ball.

And that's where Larry Bird has been screwing up.

When he threw Roy Hibbert under the bus at the end of the season, he publicly called out a guy who you should know was not going to opt out and left him in the locker room. It's one thing to tell a guy he's underperforming in private and it's quite another to do it in public. Nobody likes being called out in front of others.

This follows letting Danny Granger go at a crucial time to get Andrew Bynum when the team didn't really want to let him go either. I'm sure Lance left for a reason too and my guess that was due to management getting on him about his "antics" and we ran him out of town.

Team chemistry is a delicate balance but it's the key to doing anything in the playoffs.

But calling out Hibbert and pronouncing small ball was on it's way in had another unintended effect. That was that it pretty much told David West he should opt out and move on. And he's the heart of the Pacers.

With about half the team a free agent heading into July 1, I expect guys like Sloan, Stuckey and Scola to be back but Paul George could have a tough time next year because Indianapolis is not a popular free agent destination.

And so when Indy can't get those free agents and struggles next year, I think it's going to be time to evaluate Birds' role in breaking something that didn't need to be fixed.

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Coach2K: True Pacers fan from Indiana representing the NBA2K Pacers..

1 comments so far

I agree with Coach2K that it is too early to jump on the small ball bandwagon. Although teams have been successful in the regular season and Golden State won the title, is this approach successful in t he long term? How many teams will be able to have so many shooters on the floor as Golden State? Does Golden State even win the title if Cleveland is at full strength? Lets face it, the Cavs team that was in the finals was atrocious on the offensive end and still won two games. If the Cavs could have made an adjustment to get James open in the post with a back screen on Iguodola along the baseline, who knows what would have been the outcome even with a depleted squad.

What about the Hawks? They like to share the ball and stretch the floor. Cleveland pounded them inside and swept them away.

I also agree with Coach2K that post play suffers in today's NBA but not only because of the physical play, but also because there is a lack of skilled players that can play with their back to the basket. When you think of great post play, Olajuwon and Mchale come to mind. Is there anyone close to those players today?

Finally, I disagree with Coach2K about Hibbert. I don't have problem with Bird letting him know in public that they will have a different style of play next year. I am sure the Pacers have tried everything in their power internally to motivate the guy but it has not worked - he is just too emotionally unstable. The Pacers gave Hibbert a max contract to stay in Indy matching Portland's offer. Although Hibbert is a rim protector, he doesn't rebound at a high rate, struggles guarding the pick and roll and has an offensive game that can be down right ugly at times in the post.

Yes, one of their goals with the public statement was to edge him out the door but we all knew that he would take the player option given the market for him in free agency. Did this push West out the door too? It is hard to tell. West has stated that he is focused on winning so it would make sense for him to leave as the Pacers are strapped with Hibbert's deal for one more year and would have been completely limited if both West and Hibbert took their player options.

By the way, did anyone notice that Hibbert kept his official intentions unknown and opted in right after the draft - a return shot across the bow?