Who would have thought? It's been five years from that infamous night in Detroit, and the Indiana Pacers are still struggling to get back to their feet. With the team still rolling in the gutters, is it finally time to pull the plug and start over?
Everyone acknowledged that following the Detroit Brawl in November 2004, it was going to take a while for the Indiana Pacers to return to elite status. Some may remember that former CEO and President Donnie Walsh began a "restoration" project in 2006.
First, it meant getting rid of all the troubled players to win back the fans who were sick and tired of all the off-court issues. Over the last five years, we've gradually seen Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal, Shawne Williams, David Harrison, Marquis Daniels, and finally Jamaal Tinsley hit the road.
Sure, the franchise made good on its promise to improve the team off the court, but unfortunately it was at the expense of the team's talent level on the court.
Second, it meant building a solid core around franchise player Danny Granger. Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Troy Murphy were brought in to be part of that core, but injuries have derailed Dunleavy's career trajectory, and Troy Murphy has suddenly become trade bait.
Other potential "core" players also didn't pan out.
Jarrett Jack bolted to Toronto after a single season, and TJ Ford's play has gone from bad to worse to non-existent.
Third, it meant picking the right mix of rookies to add to the future core and bolster the remainder of the roster. Mid-first round picks Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush, and Tyler Hansbrough and second round pick AJ Price are all solid rookies with potential, but let's face it—not one has the ability to turn the fortunes of the franchise around.
Lastly, it meant signing the right veterans to "fill in the gaps". Over the years, we've seen countless role players come in to temporarily fill the perceived holes, but what's the point of having good role players when the core of the team wasn't any good?
Year after year, the Indiana Pacers continued to make big promises that went unfulfilled. Each season would begin with the utmost optimism but end with the same disappointment.
After making the playoffs in 2005 and 2006, the Pacers have finished ninth in 2007, 2008 and 2009—out of the playoffs and without a decent lottery pick, which is the worst possible situation to be in.
And now, 48 games into the 2009-2010 season, the Indiana Pacers have hit rock bottom. The team is a miserable 16-32, 13th in the East and a full eight games out of the final playoff spot.
The "new defensive mindset" which was highly touted in the offseason has vanished like a fart in a windstorm. Not only have the Pacers failed to defend anyone, but their offense has spluttered too. The team's -5.8 point differential is third worst in the NBA.
You can blame it on the injuries, the lack of chemistry, the salary cap, the GFC, Ron Artest, Ben Wallace, Jim O'Brien, Larry Bird, God—the bottom line is, the Indiana Pacers just aren't getting it done and at this rate aren't likely to get anything done in the near future.
Larry Bird said the Pacers' front office is in the midst of a "three-year plan" to get the team back to title contention. The aim for this year and the next was to gain playoff experience while adding more draft picks and then dive into the free-agent market in 2011 when the team will have salary cap room.
Well, playoff experience is not forthcoming this season, and if things stay the way they are, it won't be for the next season either.
Should the Indiana Pacers wait until the 2011 offseason to make a big move (thereby testing the patience of the fans of a financially troubled franchise), or should they blow things up right now and start over? With the Feb. 19 trade deadline looming, now is the time.