Next up: the Indiana Pacers. Obviously, the first reaction is “oh, finally an Eastern conference team to beat up on.” However, the Pacers did beat us earlier this year- take a look at what happened last time around, and how we can rectify it. Also, it’s Peja’s former team!
I was fortunate enough to talk to the great Pacers blog Indy Cornrows, who answered some questions about the team.
At the Hive: Update us on the Jermaine O’Neal situation… obviously the majority of NBA fans still associate O’Neal with the Pacers franchise even though we really haven’t heard much about him in a while. What direction does it look like his career with the Pacers is going to take from here on out?
Indy Cornrows: It appears J.O. will return to the court this week in some capacity and try to play out the season. It would really help the Pacers’ options if he can play a handful of games and show the knee is in good shape. Nothing will be settled with J.O.’s situation until the offseason, but the only way the Pacers can begin rebuilding is to move his contract. He has a player option but no other team will come close to offering him $45 million over the next two years, so it would take a humanitarian effort on J.O.’s behalf for him to opt out. It will be a challenge to move J.O. for players than can offer the team roster flexibility without getting locked into at least one other bad contract. For the near term, J.O.’s fate will determine the direction and ultimate success or failure of the franchise. I would personally love to see him go to a contending team with solid offensive pieces around him. If he’s a third or fourth scoring option and can patrol the middle on defense, he’d make a big impact.
At the Hive: One guy absolutely nobody’s talking about is Danny Granger- he raised his average from 7.5 ppg to 13.9 last year, and now from 13.9 to 18.8 this year. Could you tell us a little bit more about his game- what aspects does he still need to work on, and where has he developed since coming into the league?
Indy Cornrows Danny’s game has really taken off this year. Moving Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington last year helped free up a larger role for Danny and give him room to grow. His game has not only improved from last year, it has improved steadily throughout this year. Each year his shooting has improved and this year his 3pt% and FT% have continued to improve. He even broke a Reggie Miller club record for consecutive free throws made. In the past few weeks, Danny’s shown improvement in the leadership area. He’s had a couple of games recently where he’s dug deep late in games to make winning plays and appears more vocal on the court interacting with his teammates. One area Danny needs to improve is his ability to put the ball on the floor and finish at the hoop.
At the Hive: As of now, the Pacers are on the outside looking in, in the midst of an extraordinarily weak season collectively by the East. Give me your breakdown for how the East shakes out, especially the lower seeds, whom I really haven’t heard much about. As much as we’ve heard about Detroit and Boston, is there *any* chance an upset occurs in the East playoffs?
Indy Cornrows: Don’t look past Boston and Detroit when trying to determine the Eastern Conference champion. The final four playoff spots will be held by mediocre teams, at best. Naturally, LeBron could push the Cavs to and upset in a series, but the Cavs still don’t have enough for any Western Conference champion. I wouldn’t sleep on Toronto either, if they can stay healthy for the playoffs that’s a team that could cause some problems in a series.
At the Hive: What’s up with Jamaal Tinsley? The guy was one of my favorite guards to watch circa 2003. Since then he’s been on a precipitous decline, shooting worse and worse from the field and turning the ball over increasingly, to the point where stats like PER and ORtg say he’s far below league average for his position. What changed, and is there any chance we see the Tinsley of old again?
Indy Cornrows: Jamaal Tinsley has the worst “sore” knee in the history of sports medicine. His latest MRI results have caused he and the team to determine he will shut it down for the season. He could very well have played his last game for the Pacers. I think the Tinsley of old made a brief appearance early in the year. He seemed to really take to Jim O’Brien’s system and did a great job running the show. At some point, he started looking to score more and more often and then there were reports of a film session blow up between he and O’B and there was a strange game in Phoenix where he took every shot in the final couple of minutes of the 4th quarter and overtime of a game they absolutely threw away. From that point on, he was in a funk and dinged his knee so physically he wasn’t right and now it appears over. There’s no one I enjoy more, when he’s right, than the Tin Man, but when he’s not right it kind of sours the whole team. He’s another guy I don’t expect back and Bird probably won’t hesitate to trade him for next to nothing.
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