Monday, February 19, 2007

Losing The Greg Oden Sweepstakes Without Even Trying

As per my usual, this started out as a comment to someone else's post - in this case, Shane’s post about the Pacers - and started to go too long. Shane noted that he did not think Jermaine O’Neal was a good leader - a good player, but not a good leader. And I think he’s bang on. See below for why.

I think he hit the nail on the head when he said that O'Neal is a good player but not a good leader. Obviously, I don't follow the Pacers that much, but I pick up a few things here and there (and didn't actually give up on them completely until after Artest). And I don't think O'Neal was ever really comfortable with the idea of being the team's leader.

His role is more of the quiet number two guy - which is why, I think, he excelled as he did while he and Reggie Miller were on the team together. Miller could be the team leader and the spokesman - and O'Neal could quietly go about the business of dominating the low post. When Miller retired, the role of team leader was foisted on O'Neal - maybe without his consultation, and probably, either way, against his wishes. Pacers upper management took a big chance on O'Neal and Artest after Miller retired. It's one of those things that breaks hard either way.

If the team had done very well with Artest and O'Neal leading the way, Donnie and company would have come out of it looking like geniuses. Instead, we got the brawl and Stephen Jackson - which was like still having all the troubles of Artest without a fraction of the actual on-court talent - and Donnie and company do not look like geniuses. They appear instead to have inherited Isiah Thomas’ unique ability to destroy everything around him.

I don't think the blame lies much with O'Neal at all. He's frustrated - with the way the team has team has been (mis)managed, with the way his teammates have comported themselves off the court, and with his own body for breaking down on him every time it seems like he needs to be at the peak of his game. I don't blame him for wanting to be traded - while he still has some value on the trade market - because this team is not going in the right direction. Donnie Walsh could not reasonably have expected to contend this season, and he and Bird should have had the wherewithal to start dumping big contracts and shipping out unhappy players.

I'm not saying they should have tanked the season on purpose - but they should have accepted the fact that the team as it exists now cannot contend. They should have begun the rebuilding process this year and been content with going into the lottery - if for no other reason than that the chance to get the #1 pick would have been so worth the gamble. Not everybody is on the Greg Oden bandwagon yet - he got hurt last year and spent the summer and part of his freshman year recuperating, and Ohio State did not start out looking like the world-beaters that the Oden fans thought they would be.

But take a look at it now. Florida got manhandled by Vanderbilt yesterday, and now Ohio State is poised to take over the #1 position in both polls when they are released tomorrow. Theoretically, #1 could go to any of the three teams below Florida - and those teams are, in order in both polls, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. My buddy Scott could give you a whole post on each team and why they should or should not be #1 - but pretty much all I can tell you is that they are all three extremely talented teams playing fairly tough schedules. And Ohio State hasn’t lost since January 9th, picking up five road wins in conference along the way.

Oden leads his team in scoring and is averaging almost a double-double. He’s the number one pick whenever he goes into the draft - although if he and fellow Indianapolis native freshman phenom Mike Conley stay in school, there is good reason to believe that this Ohio State team could set itself up for a series of NCAA tournaments the likes of which have not been seen in a long, long time.

I don’t know if Oden is the kind of natural leader that Miller was, nor if he will ever settle into that kind of role. But he is the kind of talent around which you can build a team - the kind of talent that can allow another kid to develop as a leader because he knows he doesn’t have to shoulder the budern of doing all the scoring. This is a relatively young team, apart from O’Neal and Armstrong (and Armstrong is obviously not any kind of long term answer to any kind of question), with plenty of opportunity for development - especially in the person of Danny Granger, who is in just his second year out of New Mexico.

But anyway...that’s what the Pacers could have done - accepted their place in the lottery and tried to spend this season getting to know their strengths and weaknesses, with the hope there in the backs of their minds that they might get that first pick in the draft. If there was a year when you were going to gamble on that kind of thing - rebuild with the hope of getting the #1 pick - then this certainly would have been the year for it. They gambled on Artest and lost, gambled on Stephen Jackson and lost...why not go for Oden? Third time’s the charm, it’s said.


Last King of SCOOTland said...

Bam! No that wasn't Emeril, that was you hitting the nail. Check out mine for my thoughts.

Scoot Out

Shane M. White said...

The only thing I disagree on is Greg Oden potentially being a leader, or captain. He just doesn't seem to have the demeanor on the court, or even on the bench. Oden, and EVERYONE, knows what he's good at. He's one of few true low-post players, and he dominates it. I think he's very much the same as J.O. was five years ago, when we first got him, before his body shut down. Except, Oden is a true center, and J.O. is a power forward forced to play center.

If we moved J.O. back to the four spot, and put Foster in at center to start, I think we would solve A LOT of issues. Let Murphy come off the bench to replace either Foster or J.O. Let Granger start small, Dunleavy in shooting, and Tinsley in point. I honestly think that would be one of the best rotations for the Pacers. And let Granger act like the captain on the court. Generally, the point guard is supposed to do this - but Tinsley sucks at management, he's just good at playing point. Reggie was the captain in the two-spot for years, so Granger should be able to put it off in the three.

I think Mike Connelly is captain that makes Oden look good. I think Greg just plays his game, and that's all he's concerned about. Jason Maier and I recently had the discussion about Oden's lack of emotion while playing the game, and I have to agree with Jason - when he says he's never seen Oden REALLY show the emotion that most players do. He's just there to play his game.

I don't know if winning the Greg Oden lottery is what we need (maybe Connelly will be available when we get our pick...?)

The thing that I have to keep telling myself: The Pacers are in the FIFTH spot in the East! Despite poor playing, and an up and down season - we're CLOSE to the top of the Eastern Conference, and could gain some ground over the next two weeks (unless we decide to lose MORE games to sub-.500 teams!).

It's going to be an interesting couple of months. I can only hope for the best, while still being prepared for the post-season failure.