Indiana Pacers: Herb Simon Happy With Progress

As yet another abysmal season comes to a close for the Indiana Pacers and their waning fan base, the Indianapolis Star’s Mike Wells recently sat down with owner Herb Simon to get his take on the state of the franchise. Other than one frightening proclamation that we’ll get to in a minute, there wasn’t a lot of new ground broken as Simon pretty much repeated the company line Jim O’Brien and Larry Bird have been forcing down fans throats all season long. I’ve put off addressing the mess the Pacers have become for a while now — doctor says my heart may not be able to handle it — but after reading the Simon interview, I had to get everything off my chest.

For the full interview check out

Wells: The franchise will finish with its worst record in more than 20 years. Thoughts?

Simon: It’s always frustrating when you lose. It just doesn’t feel good.  We feel we have a plan and we feel we’re moving along with that plan. So we see the light at the tunnel when it comes to having salary cap space (in 2011).

-It’s true, we’ll have plenty of money to spend in 20011, the question is; what do we do with that cap space? Bird doesn’t exactly have the best record when it comes to bringing in talent (see: Jasikevicius, Sarunas), and besides, with many of the top players available for free agency this coming summer, there won’t be nearly as many franchise-altering guys available.

A quick look at the list of free agents in 2011 reveals Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, Carmelo Anthony, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, David West, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker as the cream of the crop.  Of those, Anthony, Duncan and Parker aren’t going anywhere, leaving behind few appealing options.  The way I see it, we’re either going to overpay a player just because we can — always a recipe for disaster — or we’ll stock up on mid-level guys like Mickael Pietrus, Nene Hilario, and Leandro Barbosa and hope that our existing talent develops tremendously over the next two seasons.  Neither seems very appealing.

Wells: Is it frustrating that you’re winning meaningless games for the third straight season when you could be increasing your draft odds?

Simon: The wins mean a lot for the players, they mean a lot for the coach, they mean a lot for the franchise. The crowds are very excited when we win and people are starting to feel that there’s some hope with this team. I think it gives us hope for next season.

-Like winning 8 of our last 12 games last year gave us hope for this season?  Or how about in 2007, when we went 11-5 over the last 16 games.  Did that momentum carry over to 2008?  No, of course not.

What Simon doesn’t seem to understand is other teams are playing their young guys, sitting veterans, experimenting with different lineups, and flat-out tanking to get a better draft picks at the end of the season.  The Pacers, on the other hand, are playing Troy Murphy and Danny Granger 40-plus minutes a game, and watching as much needed draft positioning slips from their grasp.

It’s really unfair to the fan base when you think about it. For four months this team was absolutely unwatchable.  They were disjointed, poorly coached, and inept on both ends of the court.  Half the time it looked they didn’t even enjoy playing basketball.  And we, the fans — the ones who stuck around anyway — were forced to watch this train wreck on a nightly basis.  The only reprieve we had was dreaming about a high draft pick.

At the beginning of March, the Pacers had the fourth worst record in the league and held an 11.1% chance of landing the #1 overall selection in the upcoming draft.  Thoughts of Evan Turner and John Wall danced through our heads.  It was not to be though.  Thanks to their current run of 10 wins in the past 13 games, the Pacers now have the 10th worst record and a 1.1% chance of the first pick.  Say hello to Cole Aldrich, Pacers fans.

Wells: What about these wins hurting your draft chances? Teams that are in the playoffs got better with high draft picks.

Simon: There’s no guarantee the first pick is going work out. Look at some of the previous picks. You definitely like a high pick, but you never sacrifice losing — at least in this franchise we won’t — to get a better pick. That doesn’t feel good and it’s not the right way to do it. The fans who come out every game expect us to do our best and try our best and play our best. That’s what this franchise stands for.

-That’s unfortunate, because the Pacers organization I used to know stood for “winning basketball,” not this “try our best” garbage Simon’s talking about.  Sorry, but the fans don’t care about “trying hard” when it doesn’t result in meaningful victories, and I’m sure Simon’s books tell him the same thing.

Also, it’s completely preposterous to think you’re not giving your franchise a better chance to succeed by obtaining high draft picks.  Forget the excitement it would create within the fan base, constantly picking in the low-teens is a sure-fire way to mediocrity (as we’re currently witnessing).  If Simon trusts Bird like he says he does, why should he be worried about screwing up high draft choices?  Pretty perplexing answer, if you ask me.

Wells: Jim O’Brien has a losing record as coach of the team. Where do you stand on his future?

Simon: That will be a basketball decision and I haven’t heard any information that he won’t be back next season. So he’ll be the coach next season.

-Please, no.  No, no, no, no.  Bringing O’Brien back to coach this team, a team he’s run into the ground over the last three years, would be a monumental, and unforgivable mistake for Bird and Simon.  The team has tuned him out, he’s butted heads with his point guard numerous times, he refuses to give consistent playing time to the youngsters, the list goes on.  Just look at the progress of the team under O’Brien’s leadership.  They’re actually getting worse.  Not just collectively — the team’s failed to improve on the 36-46 record in his first season — but individually as well.

Granger is no longer a fun-loving team player who had no qualms about taking it to the hole and defending.  Now he’s just an angry, whiny, me-first gunner like so many others in the NBA.  Roy Hibbert doesn’t fit into O’Brien’s offense, and thus hasn’t been given ample time to develop his serious talents, and don’t even get me started on Brandon Rush.  Again, the list goes on.  If O’Brien’s not out of Indy next October, I’m giving all my Pacers shirts and jerseys to Goodwill.  I swear to gawd I will.

Wells: Can the same be said about Larry Bird? The two of you have always had a handshake agreement when it comes to his contract.

Simon: Yes, Larry will be back next season. It’ll be up to him on if he wants to return after next season. Larry is a no-nonsense guy. He calls the shots the way he sees them and he’s never going to compromise his values, which I appreciate.

-Good.  I want to see Larry have the chance to finish this out.  But there’s no more “Larry Legend” discount.  We need to see actual results, and we need to see them now.  Bird’s legacy will ultimately come down to the decisions he makes this summer.  Should be an exciting June.

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