My last post might make it seem like I am a little too anti-defense. What I said is I prefer good offense over good defense five times out of seven, unless we are speaking of exceptional defense. But two times out of seven - well, two times out of seven I like to see solid D. With this in mind, let's talk about the Pacers. They fired an excellent coach in Rick Carlisle. Luckily, they also hired an excellent coach in Jim O'Brien. Under the circumstances, this was a pretty exceptional option for Bird. Obie is a winner, period. All this talk surrounding Jermaine O'Neal and "rebuilding" is going to seem pretty fluky once the season starts, because Indy should be in the thick of things. And for this we have to praise Obie.
Jim O'Brien was truly one of the best things to happen to the Celtics in the last 15 years. His style and demeanor of play was as successful as one could ever hope for with the moderate talent he was given. His last great feat with the C's came during a five game win streak preceding the Ricky Davis trade in 2003. A unit of Pierce, Jiri Welsh, Blount, Mike James and Vin Baker, with Eric Williams coming off the bench, was kicking ass. It was O'Brien's parting gift - a strange mixture of players executing a cohesive free-flowing halfcourt offense along with the usual stout defense of any O'Brien team. I mean he had Jiri Welsch looking really good. Then Danny traded Williams for Ricky, destroying the chemistry and the chances of Obie staying in Boston for much longer. He resigned the next month.
What that little story means is that Obie can basically make any NBA team half decent. I've long held the belief that there is enough talent on any NBA team for a good coach to coax almost a .500 mark out of it. It takes good coaching and no devastating injuries, but we have examples every year. For instance, last season Sam Mitchell almost willed his team to the Atlantic Division title despite being roundly predicted to finish last at the beginning of the season. Two years ago Byron Scott almost got the Hornets into the playoffs when I thought it would be difficult for them to win twenty games. Fratello had the Grizz at almost 50 wins for two straight years by playing a methodical system and hard defense. Sloan led the Jazz to a successful season after Stockton and Malone left, using the meager talent remaining. The list goes on, and each year there is an upstart team that surprises a lot of people by being perfectly adequate when people expect them to be just plain shitty.
But I don't even know if the Pacers fall into that category, because this team won consistently up to last year, and there still is considerable capability there. Basically Carlisle had to go, he was the fall guy for the massive chemistry issues that inevitably occur when fights, strip clubs, Stephen Jackson, and Ron Artest are all used in the same sentence. Larry Legend once famously said that no coach should be with a team for more than three years, and unfortunately Carlisle's time was up.
I really don't know how Obie is going to use the players he has, except to say that if O'Neal is still on the roster opening night he is sure to see big minutes. The other pieces seems weird: Marquis Daniels, Travis Diener, Ike Diogu, Mike Dunleavy, Jeff Foster, Danny Granger, David Harrison, Troy Murphy, Kareem Rush and Jamaal Tinsley. But what O'Brien does so well is maximize the worth of the players he has. No one has ever made Eric Williams, Walter McCarty or Jiri Welsch look so valuable, not to mention the J.R. Bremers of the world. And many of the players on the Pacers roster are much more talented than those particular Celtics.
Obie will have Indy play good defense, that much is for certain. What will be interesting is how much of an offensive identity he will be able to give them except for the inevitable (and intelligent) love of the long ball. With Philly he started to stress pushing the tempo, and it will be intriguing if he actually succeeds in doing that at all here. But maybe it won't matter that much. Indy will be a tough out most nights, and if O'Brien can develop chemistry on and off the court, many people are going to be shocked. Remember what Obie did with the C's in 2002. History could repeat itself, stranger things have happened.