Before waiving Travis Diener three days ago, six of the Pacers 15 players were white. I think it's safe to say that Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird has overreacted to the Ron Artest / Stephen Jackson / Jamaal Tinsley / Marquis Daniels era of a few seasons past (hey, that sounds like a squad Mark Warkentien would assemble!) during which we saw the biggest brawl in NBA history and the infamous "Club Rio" incident. Becase last I checked, fielding an NBA team post-1960 that's comprised of 40% white American Stiffs is not advisable.
As noted by the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon a couple years ago, white American players in the NBA have been evaporating at a rate similar to black Americans in Major League Baseball. In fact, when David Lee made an All-Star appearance this season it was the first time the NBA's mid-season party had had a white American participant since Brad Miller's 2004 appearance. And yet the Pacers have been hell bent on reversing this trend all by themselves. The results? After missing the playoffs by three games in the Eastern Conference (a conference in which the eighth seed routinely has a sub-.500 record), they're on "Pace" (pardon the pun) to win about 27 games this season.
In other words, Bird's multi-year attempt to field an NBA team with shoddy duplicates of himself has been an abject failure. Now we know why people look back at the Donnie Walsh era in Indianapolis with such fondness, despite appearing in just one NBA Finals and hiring Isiah Thomas as head coach during Walsh's nearly 20 year reign over the franchise. (I don't want to pick on Walsh, by the way. The former Nuggets assistant and head coach did a great job keeping small market Indiana competitive and remains one of the classiest figures in the NBA. And he eventually fired Isiah...twice.)
Where was I? Oh, right. The Pacers are garbage. Absolute bottom-feeding NBA garbage. They're chock-full with Stiffs and making matters worse, they're expensive Stiffs who are on the payroll for next season. Further proof that hiring a former Celtic legend from the 1980s as your GM might not be the best idea in world. Just ask Minnesota Timberwolves fans. (And yes, Danny Ainge has done a good job in Boston but he lucked into Kevin Garnett courtesy of his friend and former teammate Kevin McHale. Lest we forget that Ainge essentially traded the right to draft Brandon Roy for Sebastian Telfair before the KG deal landed in his lap.)
When we last watched the Pacers play our Nuggets, the Nuggets walloped them 111-93 at Indianapolis in the fourth game of the season. Those were silly old times when Anthony Carter started (no joke), J.R. Smith was suspended and Renaldo Balkman actually got some garbage time minutes. The only question Nuggets fans should be concerned about entering Friday night's contest with the Pacers is whether or not to make LoDo plans for 9pm or 9:30, because this game will be over by the mid-point of the third quarter.
SCOUTING THE PACERS...
-Tyler Hansbrough: It's tough to blame Bird for drafting an NCAA Champion who won the Naismith and Wooden Awards 13th overall in the NBA Draft, but Hansbrough has turned out to be another Adam Morrison-type player: great in college where the best players no longer play past one season, not so great in the NBA. In fairness to Hansbrough, he's been hurt. But when he has played, 36% shooting isn't going to cut it in the NBA.
-Mike Dunleavy, Jr: Speaking of hurt, white and bad shooting...ladies and gentlemen, I present Mike Dunleavy, Jr! Dunleavy's 10.5 ppg on 40.1% shooting (29.9% from three-point range) is even more painful if you consider he's making $9.8 million this season...and will make $10.6 million next season.
-Jeff Foster: Foster belongs on this list for teasing Nuggets fans all season with the news that he might be a Denver Stiff instead of a Pacers Stiff. Not only did Foster never come to Denver (a move I was all for, by the way), but he called his season quits early due to back surgery.
-Danny Granger: Thanks to an assortment of injuries and being asked to carry this awful team, Granger's production is down this season. But with the exception of an off-night against the Lakers this week, Granger has gotten his groove back over the past 10 or so games.
-Troy Murphy: I've always liked Murphy's game. He can score inside or out, hit the three and is a great rebounder. It's a shame that Murphy's talents are being wasted in a market that's goes largely unnoticed by the media that covers the NBA.
-Roy Hibbert: Hibbert is having a fine sophomore season for a guy drafted 17th overall in 2008. Unlike his fragile teammates, Hibbert has appeared in all 61 of the Pacers games and is averaging a respectable 10.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 1.7 bpg in just 23 minutes of playing time per night. In fact, when Hibbert was getting starters minutes earlier in the season, his contribution was even more impressive.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images: Ron Hoskins