Sunday, January 30, 2011

O'Brien finally runs out of rope in Indy

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - After three-plus seasons of mediocre to worse basketball, the Indiana Pacers finally pulled the trigger and fired the world's surliest basketball coach, Jim O'Brien, on Sunday.

Team president Larry Bird replaced the unpopular mentor with veteran assistant Frank Vogel on an interim basis.

To be blunt, I'm surprised it took this long.

"We've been looking at everything with our team, from the beginning of the season and now at the halfway mark and I think at this time a change is necessary," said Bird. "This isn't all on Jim. All of us share in the
responsibility for where we're at and where we need to go."

O'Brien compiled a miserable 121-169 record during his tenure in Indianapolis, failed to make the playoffs in any of his three full seasons at the helm and topped out at 36 wins in both 2007-08 and '08-'09, his first two
seasons with the club.

The Pacers suffered yet another setback in Chicago on Saturday night, their seventh loss in eight games. That latest hiccup dropped the underachieving team to 17-27 and 10th in the Eastern Conference playoff
picture, two games south of both Philadelphia and Charlotte.

No one is going to claim that the Pacers have the type of talent to compete with Boston, Miami and the Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference or even Orlando and Atlanta, but you can certainly make the argument that O'Brien had more to work with than teams like New York, the Sixers and the Bobcats.

The acquisition of a true point guard in Darren Collison and the continued development of center Roy Hibbert, coupled with an All-Star type player in Danny Granger should have been enough for O'Brien to make the postseason.

To be fair, the veteran mentor might have weathered the storm, righted the ship and played sacrificial lamb to the Celtics, Bulls or Heat in the East quarters but that would have been just a band-aid for a once proud

NBA basketball is equal parts X's and O's and managing egos these days. Few question O'Brien's basketball acumen but his ability to deal with varying personalities isn't exactly going to conjure up images of Phil Jackson.

People in Philadelphia still cringe when talking about O'Brien's people skills and he's been gone from the 76ers for five years.

The Pacers are in flux and certainly don't need that kind of headache. Bird is in the final year of his contract, and has already hinted he may not return even if asked. Meanwhile, the ownership situation is muddled and the club would love to deal disgruntled backup point guard T.J. Ford, and could even be convinced to move Granger in the right deal.

Stabilizing perhaps the most important position in the organization is paramount. It was clear, O'Brien wasn't working so why not move on as soon as possible?

Vogel, a 14-year coaching vet, is likely just holding down things while the Pacers try to convince Mike Brown, the former Cleveland head coach and assistant under Rick Carlisle in Indy, to take over a reclamation project that should be further along.

As for O'Brien. He's a lifer in an old boy's club that quickly went to jump on the sword for him despite his incredibly pedestrian resume that features just three postseason appearances in nine years as a head coach.

"Obi is a great basketball mind," Nuggets coach George Karl said before his Nuggets took on the Sixers in Philadelphia Sunday night. "I'm sure he will land on his feet."

Heck, even Bird lauded a guy who made him look bad.

"These decisions are never reached easily and this is no different," Bird said. "Jim did a good job under the circumstances the last 3 1/2 years in a rebuilding effort, he helped change the culture and worked every day to try to get this franchise turned in the right direction. I have the utmost respect for Jim and what he did for us."

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