The Indiana Pacers season ended in fitting fashion last week with a 90-96 loss to the Nets, a game that wouldn't have been remotely close if Anthony Johnson didn't go into NBA Jam mode and drop 40 on Jason Kidd's head. When a team relies on a career night from a career backup to stay competitive in the biggest game of the season, its safe to say some drasic changes will be made in the off-season.
Of course the blame falls first on Jermaine O'Neal, but it seems the bigger problem is when Jerm is put in a position where he's responsible for most of the Pacer's offense. Game 2 against the Nets is a good example (12 pts on 3-12, AJ had to play 40 mins and scored 17). Jerm is "20 ppg" good, not Karl Malone good. But Pacers fans expect him to be Karl Malone good, although he is quite stoppable, especially against physical play (e.g. 10 ppg against the Wallaces this year, 15 against Elton Brand). But Bird is adamant that Jerm is steering this ship, and as-is he's a top 5 PF. Unless we can score a swap for KG, he's going nowwhere. At least he shouldn't. The real issue is surrounding him with some capable scorers.
Stephen Jackson is probably sitting on the hottest of hot seats at this point. The Man They Call Skeletor fell out of favor for multiple reasons. After a respectable 2005 campaign, Jax's offense could best be described as "lazy". Often ball movement would come to a complete stop in his hands, then Jax would puke up a 20-footer with a hand in his face. This was a far cry from the heroics Reggie treated us to through the years, a comparison Jax resented plenty. His numbers slid as a result and, combined with the increasing pouting and the love of arguing with everyone in sight, this throws up red flags about his upside.
The point guard position is a question mark as well. It's time for the Pacers to pull the plug on the Jamaal Tinsley project. Tinsley shows lots of promise when healthy, but you can't expect your team to develop any type of rhythm when the man running your offense misses 40 games a year. And you can't expect to build around Anthony Johnson, who had his John Bagley year this season; the aging stocky point who, at age 31, mysteriously plays over his head at the most opportune time. If Bagley is a measuring stick, Johnson will be retired in two years. And what's-his-name Sarunas Jasikevicius looked more like a combo guard than a pure point, and I expect him to slide into Fred Jones' soon-to-be-empty role.
Larry Bird is set on resigning Peja Stojakovic, but I've never been completely sold on Peja fitting in here. Peja is a player that gets his points off of ball movement, but the Pacers barely average 20 assists a game as a team, nearly in the bottom 10 in the league. Plus that Danny Granger guy also plays the 3. And, with Ron Artest gone and assuming Tinsley and Jax aren't far behind, suddenly the Pacers look like an increasingly soft defensive team.
I'd be surprised if Jax is back next year. His trade value is pretty low, but unfortunately he was our best defender at times this year. I'd send Jax to Golden State for Mickael Pietrus, a backup 2 who's been masquerading at the 3 for years now. Pietrus and Sarunus can split time at the 2, and I'm sure Atma Brother would be glad to throw in Dun Dun Jr. for salary cap purposes. Or for no reason at all.
Reportedly both Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown are fans of Jamaal Tinsley, and if any GM would trade for a player that's as reliable as a 10 year old condom, it's Isiah. I had a vision that Donnie Walsh shipped Tinsley, Austin Croshere and the 17th pick for Stephon Marbury. On paper it sounds intriguing, the Pacers finally get a player that can create his own shot, the Knicks get Croshere's expiring contract, and Larry Brown finally gets a point guard that plays "the right way" that isn't Eric Snow or Mark Jackson. But I'd hesitate to add Marbury to a Pacers locker room that already ripe with attitude problems. On a less extreme note, free agent Speedy Claxton would also be a good fit, a distributor that can play some D, but has also had injury problems in the past. Another Pacer in street clothes? He would fit in! Sigh...
Peja to the Lakers for Lamar Odom? Peja is perfect to stretch Phil Jackson's triangle offense John Paxson-style, and the Pacers get a swiss army knife that can play both forward spots, create offense and rebound. My gut says sign-and-trade with Peja, but I'm willing to give it some time to play out.
Of course, I'm just some guy with a blog. What do I know?