KRAVITZ: With the trade deadline approaching, it's time for Larry Bird to shake things up
INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - It's time, Larry. It's time to do something, anything to better position the Indiana Pacers for a run at the playoffs and maybe – unlikely but maybe – a run in the playoffs. The trade deadline is fast approaching – Feb. 23 to be precise – and the Pacers are floundering badly, losing their sixth straight Thursday, 111-98 to the Washington Wizards, a game when Indiana did a very fine impersonation of a corpse.
This won't cut it, not without a decent two-guard who can give the Pacers reasonably productive minutes. And this won't cut it, not without some muscle to support Myles Turner, who is just 20 years old and still developing his body. The Pacers are last in the league in rebounding percentage. Last.
This won't cut it when their best player, Paul George, appears to be going through the motions, when Jeff Teague is playing an oddly passive game, so ineffective he didn't play in the fourth quarter until there were three minutes left in this lost cause of a game.
This team isn't right, and George, who is as much of the problem as anyone else in that locker room, acknowledged it after Thursday's game.
Asked what he needs to see after the All-Star break, George said, "Just a spark, man. Just a spark. More energy, more excitement. It's like a cloud over us right now, a dark cloud. We're coming to the arena not expecting great things and we've got to change that."
So, George was asked, are you the guy who needs to provide that spark?
"I can't do everything," George said. "I can't do everything. I'll put everything I have into it but collectively, we've got to have the whole team change this environment and make it live in here…I've never really felt like we've been connected since the season started. I haven't felt it all year."
Here, though, is the rub:
The Pacers don't have a lot of eminently trade-worthy commodities. You're not going to deal George, no matter how much the Celtics may beg. You're not going to deal Myles Turner, who Bird believes can go down as one of the greatest Pacers players ever. You're not going to deal Teague, unless he's expressed the desire to bolt as a free agent at season's end – and that doesn't appear to be the case.
There's this, too: At the deadline, sellers want expiring contracts.
Well, the Pacers don't have much in the way of expiring contracts, and don't have anything in terms of big-dollar expiring contracts.
Teague is a free agent, but the Pacers will push hard to keep him, and they should despite some lackluster games recently.
Rodney Stuckey has a player option. C.J. Miles has a player option. Lavoy Allen, Glenn Robinson III and Joe Young have team options. Aaron Brooks will be a free agent.
What the Pacers need is what the Pacers used to have, and that's a dog. You know, a guy who's a little bit crazy, who competes like his life depends on it, like a Ron Artest or a Lance Stephenson. Right now, this is a collection of really good guys, a laid-back group that seems to be going along for the ride. And if they're waiting for George to step up and lead, they're going to be waiting around for quite some time.
"It's got to hurt you when you lose a game," Nate McMillan said. "It's not acceptable to let it roll off your shoulders."
And yet, that's the way it looks, the way it feels with this team.
If Bird can't swing a deal, it's up to McMillan to show why he was brought in to replace the eminently successful Frank Vogel, who surely would be drawing more from this outfit. Bird wanted a new voice in his locker room, wanted someone who would hold the players more accountable, and it appears to have gone in one ear and out the other. This team isn't responding, isn't buying what McMillan is selling.
What can be done at this point?
Lineup changes might be a start. Maybe it's time to bring Monta Ellis back off the bench and start him again. Maybe it's time to use George at the power forward, something Bird wanted to do last season, only to hear George dismiss the notion. Maybe it's time to hold people accountable, as McMillan appeared to do in the Wizards game when he sat Teague and went with Ellis and Stuckey.
This team needs a shakeup, or it's going to get far worse before it gets better. Consider the post-All-Star Game schedule: The Pacers are home against the Memphis Grizzlies, then play on the road against the Heat, the Rockets, the Spurs, the Hawks and the Hornets. Fourteen of the Pacers' 25 remaining games are on the road, and we know how patently awful this team is away from the fieldhouse.
That seven-game winning streak that preceded this six-game streak? Fool's gold. They were playing lousy teams. And the one time they faced a quality team, the Rockets, Houston was playing its fifth game on a five-game road trip.
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This game, this effort was utterly inexcusable. Like the effort we saw – or didn't see – when John Wall came downcourt one-on-four, got to the basket, made the shot and got fouled. (Somebody needs to explain to me why fans were yelling "overrated" at Wall, who finished with 20 points and 12 assists). Offensively, they were utterly incoherent. Defensively, they failed to show up. There was not one point in this game – not one, even when they pulled within four points in the second quarter – when the sleepy Pacers gave any indication they could win this game.
All of this was punctuated in the final seconds, when C.J. Miles somehow missed a breakaway dunk.
Do they care? Really? Bird needs to shake this thing up. McMillan needs to shake this thing up. Or it's all going to get worse, far worse, and end with the desperately underachieving Pacers watching the playoffs.