Carlisle won't return as Pacers head coach

INDIANAPOLIS -- Now that Rick Carlisle is out as the coach
of the Indiana Pacers, the team needs to figure out what is next.

Carlisle was fired Wednesday after a season in which the team
failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

The Pacers finished the season 35-47, their worst since 1988-89.
Indiana was 29-24 shortly after the All-Star break, but lost its
next 11 games to fall out of the top eight in the Eastern

Carlisle said he enjoyed his four-year run with the team and
understood that it was time for the Pacers to hear a "new voice."
With the first major postseason move out of the way, team president
Larry Bird said anything is possible -- and the new coach might have
to adjust.

"We don't know the direction," he said. "We have an idea, but
if there's something out there that can be a major trade, we'll
probably do it if it benefits us. He's got to understand going in
that we will trade any one of these players, and it might not be
what he likes, but he's got to know that going in."

"Any of these players" includes forward Jermaine O'Neal and
point guard Jamaal Tinsley, the team's top commodities. O'Neal says
he's not interested in being part of a rebuilding project and
Tinsley could follow Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson as Indiana
players traded following off-the-court offenses.

O'Neal averaged 19.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in one
of the best seasons of his 11-year career. He's a six-time All-Star
who finished third in fan voting this year for the Pacers' 40th
anniversary team.

But O'Neal missed 13 games with various injuries and illnesses.
He had surgery Wednesday to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee
that hobbled him the last two months of the season. He has missed
82 games the past three seasons -- an amount that equals an entire
regular-season's worth of games.

Tinsley had one of his best seasons and was more durable than
usual. He averaged 12.8 points and 6.9 assists in 72 games, the
most games he's played since 2002-03.

But Tinsley's off-the-court problems include a felony charge he
faces from a February bar fight in Indianapolis. He also was
present in October at a fight outside a strip club that has Jackson
facing charges for firing a gun.

Bird's pledge to continue to crack down on such behavior puts
Tinsley's status as a Pacer in jeopardy.

"It's an embarrassment," Bird said. "What we've done is we've
gotten rid of the players. We traded them guys, and we will
continue to trade them in the future if we have trouble with

Carlisle's tenure was less about wins and losses and more about
his struggle to manage talented but volatile players. He always
will be linked with Artest and Jackson, the two most prominent
players in the 2004 brawl between Pacers players and Detroit
Pistons fans. That brawl started the unraveling of a team that had
the potential to make several title runs.

In the Pacers' first year under Carlisle in 2003-04, they went
61-21 for the best record in the NBA, and the club reached the
Eastern Conference finals. But the Pacers lost more games each of
the next three seasons and Carlisle ended with a 181-147 record
over his four years since replacing Isiah Thomas.

Bird said he's not interested in coaching the team he led to the
NBA Finals in 2000 with Carlisle, a former Boston teammate, as one
of his assistants.

Carlisle and Bird said the coaching search could include
candidates already with the organization. Carlisle said Pacers
assistants Johnny Davis and Chuck Person are ready to step in.
Davis has made head coaching stops in Orlando and Philadelphia.

Carlisle mentioned Toronto coach Sam Mitchell, a former Pacer
who just was named NBA Coach of the Year; Phoenix assistant Marc
Iavaroni; former Pacer Mark Jackson; and Boston assistant coach
Tony Brown, another former Pacer. He even mentioned Reggie Miller,
the Pacers' career scoring leader. Miller, a TNT basketball
analyst, had no comment on the matter.

Even with the brawl year, Carlisle said this season was the
toughest he's had in coaching, and the situation was made more
difficult because of his close friendship with Bird. Carlisle said
he spoke with Bird on Tuesday and they decided that whichever of
them dies first, the other will read the eulogy.

"I've seen other friends part ways and never speak again,"
Bird said, "but that's not the way it's going to be with us."