As much as we are entertained by the Ron Artest soap opera, the real-life victims are the Indiana Pacers, who have to continue to play three or four games a week.
After Ron, a transition game
Before Thursday's gutty 99-89 win in Golden State, the Pacers had lost five of their last six. Overall, they are just 6-6 since Artest asked for a trade.
Some think the Pacers are probably distracted by the Artest affair, but I don't think that's the real problem.
Rather, I think this situation creates two other problems.
First, they just can't put their best team on the floor. This team was built to be a big, strong, physical team, based on the post play of Jermaine O'Neal and the all-around play of Ron Artest.
Suddenly, the Pacers are a lot smaller. Instead of the 6-7, 260-pound Artest at "small" forward, the Pacers are using Stephen Jackson, a natural two guard.
Jackson is a good player -- but not only is he out of position, but he's miscast now as a primary scorer. He's a solid third scorer, the kind of guy who can get you 15 a night. Now he'll be expected to get more like 20 a night, and that's not really the kind of player he is.
Likewise, the Pacers are now smaller at the two guard spot, with Jackson forced over to the forward spot.
Overall, this creates mismatches against them, and hurts their ability to defend and rebound. The Pacers are built on defense and rebounding -- the things that Artest does well. Now the Pacers just aren't doing those things as well.
The second problem is that the absence of Artest, especially as he just sits out without being replaced, is demoralizing.
This was a team that had championship aspirations -- for two years they've been expecting to be a title contender. Now, for the second year in a row, they have to settle for being just another team. Sure, they can make the playoffs, but that's not what they had in mind when they started the season.
Also, they have to feel somewhat betrayed by the front office. No doubt the organization is doing what it can to make a good trade. But not only did the front office bring Artest back, but they also have been unable to make a move so far to help the team. That makes it difficult, both in basketball terms and in terms of morale, for the players who are actually playing.
Coach Rick Carlisle has done about as much as a coach can to handle these two issues. He's a strong tactician, and he knows how to keep a team moving in the right direction.
But, let's face it. Without Ron Artest, this just isn't the Indiana Pacers that anyone, including the Pacers, expected.
Rockets forward Tracy McGrady has left LeBron James in his wake, with the formidable fingers of Zydrunas Ilgauskas between him and two of his 34 points in Thursday night's win by Houston.
Readers react to John Carroll's view of the Sonics' new coach:
I sure hope you are right about Bob Hill! Bob Weiss is a great guy, but a horrible head coach . . . just look at his history. Being a lifelong Sonic fan, this year's team was maddening to have to watch! Soft! No defense! Half-baked effort! All jumpers, and no aggressiveness. Basically an anti-McMillan and an anti-Karl mentality. Granted this team is not great. Perhaps not even good? But at least earn your paycheck and give 100 percent for 48 minutes every game!
Wanna know how I feel about Bob Hill? Check out his seasons with the Fordham Rams. The guy is the worst, and only made Fordham 10 times worse than it already was, which I originally thought was impossible. You guys and the Sonics have no clue what you're in for.
Now that the Sonics have gotten rid of Weiss, they WILL make the playoffs. This change is just the kind of thing the Sonics players needed, maybe now they realize that because of their poor performance their coach was fired. Hill will not be as easy as Weiss in practice, and when the Sonics are pushed hard they become a threat to any team.
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Pacers guard Stephen Jackson overcame Golden State obstacles and scored 27 points in Indy's road win.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
LeBron James tells Chris Broussard about "Glory Road", and his title aims:
"Missing the playoffs the past two seasons was the motivation. I've been used to being an automatic winner, just going onto the court knowing no team could beat us. But my first year in the league, I didn't feel that way. Now I'm at a point where I feel like every time we play, we're going to win.
I'm not saying I know we're going to win a championship this year. That takes time. It took Jordan seven years, Shaq eight. If we keep getting better, I don't think I'll have to wait eight years."
Tracy McGrady outscored LeBron James 34-32 in the Rockets' 90-81 victory in Cleveland (watch the highlight video below). McGrady has scored an average of 35.7 points per game in his last seven games against the Cavs, and he has outscored James in each of their six meetings. Total points in those games: McGrady 211, James 134.
Watch T-Mac outduel LeBron
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Vincent (Boston): Should the Celtics trade Paul Pierce for a No. 1 pick and I would like to see Danny Ainge resign. Thoughts?
Chad Ford: Pierce is having a great year and I'm sure he's frustrated that the Celtics aren't playing better. I've went back and forth on the C's trading Pierce and have come to this conclusion ... unless they can get back equal value for him (and I don't think they can) why trade him?
The team is already young enough so I'm not sure that the draft picks will really help. It's nice to have young players, but not too many. As it stands, some of their young guys aren't getting enough minutes anyway. As for Ainge resigning, I don't think so. He's made some mistakes, but overall I think he's a good GM.
When walking into shoe stores lately, I have been amazed that Jordans are all over the place. They still seem to dominate the basketball sneaker scene, even though half of these youngsters never saw Jordan play in his prime.
I was beginning to wonder if any of the current players' signature shoes will ever touch Jordan's, and this year, there seems to be a bumper crop.
LeBron's new Nikes are by far his freshest yet, and from what I understand, they are experiencing MJ-like sales. His commercials are tight too.
I'm also feeling McGrady's new line of Adidas, the T-Mac 5s. Tracy had them put a piece of hardwood in the heel.
"We play on wood, and I always take a piece of that with me," McGrady said. "So we installed some wood in here, and I always will have the game with me wherever I go."