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NBA - Expecting a Change of Pace

By Jonathan Lowe
Thursday, September 4th, 2003
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The weather over Indianapolis the last week has bordered on downright depressive, with heavy rain falling all over the Midwest. With sunnier conditions coming in, it looks as if the local basketball team is taking advantage of the change in scenery as the winds of change have focused their attention on Basketball Heaven.

The past couple of months, the Indiana Pacers have seemed to be headed backwards, to the good old days of the late-'90s. The first step was hiring former head coach Larry Bird as the president of basketball operations for the franchise. Now, it appears the next step back in the process is being taken.

Bird relieved legendary point guard, and rival, Isiah Thomas of his duties running the team. This, in turn, sets up a chance for Bird's former teammate and assistant coach Rick Carlisle to make a return trip to Hoosierland. The whispers of criticism have been loud over the last week.

"Why did Bird wait so long to fire Isiah?"

"Was this just another piece in the long-standing "rivalry" between them?"

"What will become of Jermaine O'Neal and his unhappiness?"

And with the critical points, there have been questions about the timing of the deal. Being the showman optimist, Thomas said things may have been rosier.

"I was disappointed that Larry and I didn't get a chance to work together," the now former coach said at last Thursday's press conference.

Did Isiah get a raw deal? Of course, especially considering he was yanked from the Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico for it. However, maybe we should step back and consider Bird's method of madness here (assuming Carlisle gets the position).

Over the last two seasons, Carlisle took a mediocre-at-best Detroit team and did the following:

Won 50 games both seasons.

Won back-to-back Central Division titles.

Was named Coach of the Year (2001-2002).

Led the team to the best record in the Eastern Conference (2002-2003).

Led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals (2002-2003).

And for all that success, the overachiever's reward was a swift kick in the direction of the unemployment line. Did Carlisle get a raw deal? Absolutely. But look what may wait around the corner.

While Rick may have showcased the strongest "team" in the league, he never really got the offensive push or star-power that was needed to truly excel in what many consider a lackluster conference. Enter the Pacers, with young, proven talent, talent that Thomas had underachieved with for at least the last two seasons.

Also, while Carlisle leaves behind the two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year in Ben Wallace, there is hope (albeit, very fragile) in the form of Ron Artest. And maybe this new injection of abrasiveness is what the star "bad boy" needs to settle his anger issues. Plus, I don't believe Jack Nicholson or Billy Crystal are available for counseling.

We can't forget the last piece of good news for the former Pistons coach. If hired, he would have the full-backing of his higher-up, which is something all secure job-seekers must have. At least, that will last as long as Bird is in charge. Don't forget that he left coaching inexplicably after three very successful seasons. Could Larry Legend become bored with this new position?

Anyway, it seems that while the Pacers got rid of their winning ways, they may be striving for a better fit by looking in the rear-view mirror. Will they get to the promised land by stepping back to an earlier period? Consider this. Do you see Rik Smits or Byron Scott suiting up again? Didn't think so.

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