Q. Do you see the Pacers making any moves at the upcoming deadline?
A. I understand the interest, but this is always impossible to predict. Even if I knew what the Pacers’ executive staff was trying to do, I can’t predict what other teams are willing to do.
I do, however, believe Larry Bird and his staff are trying to do something. The roster has no glaring weaknesses, but the roster is hardly a finished product. This is essentially a first-year team, with six new players and a new head coach, and nobody is pretending it’s ready to contend for a championship.
Statistically, the greatest need is for rebounding, but to address that in the starting lineup they would have to abandon the small-ball approach and add a second “big.” I also would argue they need a dose of adrenaline, from a high-energy, confident player who can tweak the team’s laid-back demeanor.
Again, you can never be sure of finding a deal that improves the team. But Bird certainly has not been opposed to making trade deadline deals, and is not hesitant to trade his first-round draft pick. There are always teams giving up on a playoff chase and looking to dump salary or begin a rebuilding project, so it could be interesting.
Q. After the game against the Rockets, we can clearly see that the team is evolving their chemistry, mainly defensively. They are trusting in each other to make plays and sharing the ball better.
A point that I would like to highlight is how Lavoy Allen has been part of this evolution, growing with the team, a player who is constantly receiving thousands of critics for his lack of effort and laid-back playing style. Do you agree with this point, that the team is growing and becoming the team that Bird was looking for since the end of last season, a team that can score more points and “scaring” the other teams? And about Lavoy, can you please give your thoughts about him and his role on this team?
A. Yes, it seems they are becoming the team Bird wanted in the first place. It shouldn’t be surprising it took this long, if you know the history of teams with first-year head coaches – especially when a lot of changes have been made to the roster as well.
The Pacers’ offense has improved during the four-game winning streak, which of course relates directly to Paul George’s improved play and the change to the starting lineup. George did not play well at Orlando on Wednesday, but enough other players stepped up to fill in, particularly the latest starting guard, C.J. Miles. That change also has helped Glenn Robinson III relax, and he’s playing much better off the bench than he did in his second stint as a starter.
As for Allen, he has shown more life the last four games, after Kevin Seraphin went out with an injury. He scored 10 points against Houston on Sunday, and six at Orlando on Wednesday. Allen has been a puzzling player, sometimes productive and sometimes invisible. He’s always joking around, so it’s difficult to judge his “care” factor. Perhaps losing his backup position to Seraphin and sitting out 12 games after playing in the first 21 lit a spark.
Q. It is now Monday, January 30th. As I look at the standings, if the Pacers had won only five of the games they lost, they would be in second place in the East. I know they can do it; but, will they actually begin to move up in the standings, or will they continue to flounder around in the middle of the pack? I hope this new attitude by George will spur them on to more wins and higher standings.
A. I think the odds are good for moving up. As I have said and written many times, it’s normal for teams with a first-year head coach to struggle early on. This one is no different. The slow start was related to the adjustments to a new coaches and players, to Jeff Teague’s slow start, and to Paul George’s injury. As long as they remain in good health the rest of the season, I expect a better second half than first half.
Q. Luciano from Rio de Janeiro again. First, I would like to congratulate for the article with Bird (about Pacers’ season and Turner potential), I really enjoy this kind of thing.
Again, we are on a losing streak (three up to now), and the last three games again we were outrebounded (Lakers, Jazz and Knicks). Do you think this is one of the reasons for giving up so many games this season so far, or is the lack of chemistry the main reason?
A. The Pacers have gone on a four-game winning streak since you submitted your question, but it’s worth reviewing. Chemistry has certainly been an issue, as the players and head coach get acquainted, but rebounding is now the primary weakness.
The Pacers were outrebounded by an average of nearly four per game before the win at Orlando (they did outrebound the Magic), which translates to giving up 48 more field goal attempts this season than they have taken. That’s a big number, and difficult to make up. They shoot better than opponents on average and control virtually every other category, but lack of rebounding puts a lot of stress on other facets of the game.
It’s every player’s responsibility to address the issue. So many 3-pointers are taken these days that many of the rebounds are going to sail over the heads of the frontline players. The guards have to get in there as well. Teague in particular has done a good job of that, rebounding at a higher rate than in any of his previous seven NBA seasons.
Q. Larry Bird made a big deal about needing a new voice for the players, is it working? It looks to me that they aren’t listening to anyone, especially on defense. In last night’s second quarter it looked they didn’t even try. What is going on? Is it poor coaching? Is it a poor roster? Is there hope?
A. Here’s another question submitted before the win streak. You were referring to the loss to New York, when they had a horrible second quarter and lost their third consecutive game.
As for assigning blame for what transpired up to that point, it has to be shared. But, again, I would hesitate to blame anyone for anything until the season ends. The roster needs tweaking, and it no doubt will be, either before the trade deadline or after the season, but they are going through the typical process most teams experience when the roster has been overhauled and a new coach takes over.
Yes, there’s hope, as the four-game win streak indicates. We’re just gonna have to ride this one out and see where it goes.
Q. A few weeks back I asked you what Larry thinks about this team and you delivered as promised. He didn’t say anything that surprised me or that I didn’t expect him to say. Larry and I are about the same age.
Do you think today’s players are less driven or treat opposing players too “nice?” There are few players in the league with Draymond Green’s attitude. Back in the day every successful team had an “attitude” player.
A. I don’t believe today’s players are less driven. In fact, I think they work harder than ever. Nearly all of them train year-round and watch their diets more carefully than in the past.
As for being too nice, I see your point. Every post game is a hugfest. It’s difficult to know what to make of that. Sportsmanship is great, but sometimes you like to see a losing team be angry. Players have historically been friends with opponents off the court, but this era of enforced handshaking (in college) and voluntary happiness (in the NBA) is different. I’m not saying it’s wrong, just different. What counts is how hard the players play, and while there are games when the effort isn’t what you like to see, that’s always been the case over the court of an 82-game season. It’s also the case over the course of a 30-game season in college. It’s just human nature to have good nights and bad nights, especially with the demanding schedules. And, sometimes what people perceive as lack of effort is actually a lack of chemistry, with players not in sync and moving enough. And, when a team’s offense is not working, its defense often suffers.
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Some mailbag questions have been edited for length and clarity.