Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What plagues the Indiana Pacers? I think it's their youth.

Photo of Roy Hibbert and Paul George by Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today
This appears in the NBA Philippines website.

What plagues Indy? I think it’s their youth.
by rick olivares

The Indiana Pacers (53-25) are 3-8 since March 17 following a victory over the hapless Philadelphia 76ers, 99-90. Three of the teams the Pacers lost to have losing records – New York, Cleveland, and Atlanta – so one cannot say it’s just one of those bad days.

Indiana started like a house on fire going 9-0 then compiling a 25-5 after the first two months of play. They have since come down to earth however the way things are going, the best way to describe them is that they are in free fall.

I checked with past Indiana teams that were seeded to contend for a championship and this is how they fared.

After pushing the Chicago Bulls to a seventh game during the 19987-98 season, Indiana went into the next one as contenders. During the strike-shortened 1998-99 season, the Pacers went 26-14 for first two months then 7-3 in their last 10 games. That team made it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the New York Knicks, 4-3.

The Pacers finally made it to the Finals the next season – 1999-2000 – during Larry Bird’s last year as head coach but the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Pacers in six. Despite that painful loss, the Pacers were still considered one of the East’s elite but under first year head coach Isiah Thomas, Indy fell to an even 41-41 record. They made the playoffs but went out in the first round, 3-1, to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Once more this year, Indiana is seen as a contender. When they were going great guns to start the season, they looked like they would finally upend the two-time defending champion, Miami Heat. Now it looks like they are just trying to survive.

Teammates are seen arguing on the bench. Roy Hibbert is benched because he is “worn down”. There’s talk of selfishness and unhappiness in the locker room. It seems like the plots normally associated from the soap operas of Los Angeles and New York have moved to Indiana.

Or maybe… Philadelphia.

It seems like a coincidence that all this started around the time Danny Granger was traded away to the 76ers.

Has the malaise that has inflicted Philadelphia has found its way to Indiana?

People point to the suddenly anemic offense or tepid defense as the culprit. Some have pointed out to Paul George’s shooting woes.

Of course, it’s both. But that is that the root of it all? Or does it have something to do with team chemistry?

As Frank Vogel’s team succumbed to loses to Portland, Oklahoma City and Miami during one stretch by mid-year, the team looked to tinker with their line-up and to add some pieces that could help them get over the hump. They hoped to find that lightning in a bottle that Detroit experienced in 1989 when they brought in Mark Aguirre from Dallas en route to the title. Or when the Houston Rockets brought in Clyde Drexler from Portland in 1995. There have been many a great mid-season trade but these two brought immediate dividends en route to a NBA title that year.

Some are now pointing to the Pacers’ weak bench, a fact that necessitated trades that brought in Andrew Bynum from Cleveland as well as Evan Turner and
Lavoy Allen from Philadelphia.

However, both Bynum and Allen have hardly played while Turner is not the player he was in Philly owing to the lack of minutes, touches, and the fastbreaking style espoused in the City of Brotherly Love.

Were the moves disastrous in hindsight?

When Indy Star columnist Bob Kravitz posed the question about the merits of adding Bynum, Pacers fans were unanimous in their belief that the move would do more harm than good.

Said Aftan Ritchhart, “We have great chemistry. This team is a family. Bynum has been a chemistry problem everywhere he’s been.”

Added Rob Hanson: “So after nearly ten years of roster chemotherapy, Larry Bird finally has this team in remission and now Kravitz suggests adding a new cancer? I bet he spends his Saturday's handing out cartons of cigarettes at the hospice unit."
Now contrary to popular belief, Bynum has been on his best behavior. Turner might not be the man but Indiana is still in a much better place in the league than Philadelphia. Not much has been hinted as to what happens behind closed doors until Hibbert’s allegations of selfishness and problems.

However, I am still not convinced of that. When a team is winning, small things become negligible and all seems well. On the other hand, when a team is losing, everything floats to the surface, warts and all. Everything is magnified.

What’s my take on this?

Youth and the lack of mental fortitude.

People forget that Indiana is a young team.

Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Evan Turner are only in their third season. Roy Hibbert, George Hill, and Ian Mahinmi are in their fifth. Rasual Butler and David West are the only real veterans having logged 10 years in the league.

For all the talent of Paul George – and he is being looked at for leadership – is he is still young.

Compare this team to the one that Larry Bird took the finals in 2000, and it’s different. Bird’s squad had a platoon of veterans who had played more than 10 years and knew what it took to win – Sam Perkins played 15 years, Chris Mullin 14, Mark Jackson, Derrick McKey, and Reggie Miller played for 12, Rik Smits had 11, and Dale Davis eight. So young guns like Jalen Rose (five years) and Al Harrington (one year) and Jeff Foster (rookie) had guidance. They were battled tested and tough. And they were ready to bring it.

Watching an episode of NBA Action with a feature on current Pacer David West; one of the players he admired the most was Toni Kukoc. For all the Croatian Sensation’s talent, he wasn’t the leader on the two teams he logged serious time with – the Chicago Bulls or the Milwaukee Bucks.

No NBA team has won with a lot of young talent. It is won with lots of veterans with a sprinkling of rookies who benefit from the guidance of others. And with an opportunity to win a NBA title on the line, maybe West should step up in a leadership role.

For all the talent of a young Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Horace Grant, it took a while for them to win it all. Ditto with Shaq, Kobe, and company. And it’s the same with the San Antonio Spurs and this Miami Heat team.

These are the dog days of the season and the long grind has the team worn down. The game is as much mental as physical.

More than ever chemistry is important. But a leader should emerge and set an example on and off the court. Or else they’ll head into a long summer of discontent.

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