by user Travis

The Indiana Pacers head back to Indy Thursday night down 3-2 against the New Jersey Nets in what may be the last game played with this particular cast of characters. After two years of adversity, they find themselves right back where they were in the 2004 Playoffs: Down 3-2 against a team that they are maybe or maybe not supposed to be better than. It certainly is a confusing bunch too. Jermaine O'Neal: Future MVP or a superstar that never was? Stephen Jackson: Firey wingman with a knack for hitting big shots or Kobe Bryant minus 20 points? Anthony Johnson: Underrated starting point guard or career backup? Peja Stojacovic: Victim of the worst luck in the world or Playoff choke artist? These are just some of the questions Pacers' management has to be asking themselves now and into the offseason.

It seems like no team in recent memory has been through so much drama in just a few short years. For the sake of tradition, let me go ahead and get this part out of the way: Ron Artest. No longer can Indiana faithful throw the blame in the face of the new Sacramento King. The Kings have now inherited that excuse. Enjoy that one guys. Trust me though, after a year or so, you'll either be trying to drop him off on someone else's doorstep or he'll be requesting a plane ticket to New York or someplace else. The Indiana Pacers don't have to deal with his drama any more. Hooray!

Wait... Now who do we blame? How about Stephen Jackson? The guy may be the most streaky player in the entire NBA. 10% of the time he plays like Kobe Bryant minus the style. 90% of the time he plays like Kobe Bryant...well...minus the 20 points. What about Jermaine O'Neal? The guy is supposed to be an MVP caliber player but his maturity and leadership has come into question far too many times over the last two years. Not to mention, he has been plagued by a few severe injuries. Speaking of injuries, remember Jamaal Tinsley? Didn't he draw a few comparisons to Jason Kidd a few years ago? Now everytime he sneezes wrong, he twists his ankle, tears a biceps muscle, and comes down with "flu like symptoms." Let's not stop there. How about Mr. Stojacovic? Is he just afraid of the Playoffs or is this knee injury the real deal? Lastly, what about Rick Carlisle himself? The guy is as disciplined a coach as there has ever been but is he a little too stubborn sometimes? Only his best friend, assistant coach Kevin Oneil could convince him into throwing some zone defense at the Nets in Game 5. Also, he seems to let Stephen Jackson get away with everything and rarely benches him after Jack decides that arguing with the refs is more impotent than getting back on defense. Does anyone ever wonder just what goes through Jack's mind when he does this? Does he expect the ref to change his mind? "Oh you're right Stephen. I'm sorry, that was a foul. Hey Jason, bring the ball back! We made a mistake. We're gonna let Stephen shoot some free throws. Better yet let's make it up to him by calling a phantom foul on Vince Carter." Why does Rick put up with this??

Better yet, why does he make us fans put up with this? The truth of the matter is, this team has run out of excuses and people to blame. Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird need to take a long hard look at the maturity level of some of these players. Rick Carlisle will stay put. I happen to think that is a good thing, so long as Rick stops letting players like Jackson get away with murder. Rick is a great coach and he deserves very little of the blame for this season. He's had to improvise things more times in two years than some coaches have to for an entire career. Maybe that's why Rick doesn't bench Jackson. He's had so few options that he had to play him. Well let's hope that management eliminates that problem in the offseason. Jackson can go hoist up horrible shots elsewhere for all I care. Jamaal Tinsley may have great potential, but potential doesn't make someone a great player, especially when injuries are involved. Just ask Jonathan Bender. Dump Tinsley. Jermaine O'Neal is the one guy who we may be being to harsh on. He's had two freak injuries in two years. Let's weather the storm with him because it would be hard to find someone to replace him anyways. Peja is a judgement call. I could go either way on what the Pacers should do with him. Other than that, most of the other guys have done all that they could to play the game of basketball the right way. This team doesn't need to be demolished. It simply needs to be revamped a little. But who am I to say what needs to be done? I'll leave that to the experts.


Wed 05/03/06, 9:30 pm EST

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