This forgettable season couldn’t possibly have been what head coach Rick Carlisle had in mind when he took the Indiana Pacers’ job just seven days after abruptly leaving the Dallas Mavericks, could it?
Carlisle, after all, is a highly decorated coach with 836 career wins, a 2011 NBA Championship, and 14 playoff trips in 19 years along the sidelines. His Xs-and-Os acumen is as respected as any in the NBA, and he figured to be a big hit in his second stint in Indiana with a talented roster already in place.
However, little has worked in Indiana this season, and those prognostications have gone up in smoke. The Pacers sit at a disappointing 15-29, their biggest star could be on his way out of town, and another standout player desperately wants to leave. Put it all together, and the Pacers seem to be on a collision course with a full-blown rebuild that could start before the Feb. 10 NBA Trade Deadline.
“We’re all disappointed,” Carlisle recently told Fieldhouse Files with Scott Agness. “But we all know the way this league is — when things are tough, you’re never that far from being on track or vice versa. … We’ve got to work to build on (momentum from earlier in the season) and that’s how we got to do business.”
The Indiana Pacers started poorly under new coach Rick Carlisle, and things only got worse
Rick Carlisle established himself as elite during his first season as the Pacers head coach in 2003. Indiana won 61 games and lost the Eastern Conference Finals that first season, but it saw the core of that stellar team wrecked by “The Malice at the Palace” in subsequent years.
In Dallas from 2008-21, Carlisle helped the legendary Dirk Nowitzki win a championship in 2011, and he eclipsed Don Nelson as the franchise’s all-time wins leader. Over time, Carlisle became as synonymous with the Mavericks as big hats and big hair are to Texas.
Carlisle, of course, was the visionary who made the bold decision in the 2011 NBA Playoffs to post Nowitzki at the free throw line — rather than on the low block — so he could see where the double teams came from. That stroke of subtle genius allowed the future Hall of Famer to carve up the Miami Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in the NBA Finals.
Incredibly, that would be the last playoff series Carlisle would win in Dallas.
So highly regarded in the coaching community that he has been the Professional Basketball Coach’s Association president for years, Carlisle was a coaching free agent for seven days before the Pacers scooped him up. However, the mesh has never been there between Carlisle’s old-school ways and a seemingly solid lineup that became injury-prone. Indiana started 1-6, rallied to 9-12, and then dropped six of the next nine. Then, things got significantly worse, with the Pacers winning just once since Dec. 26.
Somehow, a veteran-laden roster with a proven head coach is a dismal 3-17 on the road. Dead ahead are road games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State, Phoenix, and New Orleans, and that record away from home will likely plunge even further.
A rebuild of the roster seems needed and is most likely imminent with the Indiana Pacers
Does the 62-year-old coach Rick Carlisle want any part of a massive rebuilding project? Whether he does or not, that’s likely in Indiana’s immediate future. And the rebuild could very well start before the approach NBA Trade Deadline.
When 3-point shooting has never been more critical in the NBA, the Pacers rank 27th in 3-point shooting and 23rd in 3-point makes per game. In a world where small-ball and position-less basketball now rule the game, the Pacers’ style of play with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner seems outdated. Otherwise, the Pacers don’t do much of anything well as they sit in the lower half of nearly every major statistical category.
“Listen, I’m am hour-to-hour, day-to-day guy,” Carlisle told Fieldhouse Files. “I like this roster. These guys are wonderful people, damn good players. We’ve had some bad luck with a lot of different things. Now it’s injuries and some other stuff.
“It’s all about trying to get it a little better each day,” Carlisle continued. “One percent better, two percent better and if you look at our season and all the close games, a lot of it comes down to one or two percent. We just got to keep pushing in that direction to keep doing a little better.”
Trading either Sabonis or Turner — an idea first floated by The Athletic in December — seems inevitable. Or it did until recent news came out that might have put a significant damper on Indiana’s attempts to re-tool the roster.
Should the Pacers wait to trade Myles Turner? Do they dare unload Domantas Sabonis?
Myles Turner, the NBA’s leader in shot blocks for a second straight season, might have been the first to go if not for a stress reaction injury in his foot that surfaced on Tuesday. The injury will likely keep Turner out of action through the Feb. 10 deadline, according to ESPN.
Turner publicly stated his desires to leave Indiana and seek a more significant role elsewhere months ago. According to The Athletic, teams such as the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings are interested in acquiring the big man. However, if the Pacers trade Turner now, they could be getting back pennies on the dollar instead of waiting until the summer when he is healthy.
If not a deal involving Turner, do the Pacers dare trade two-time All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis? The rugged, 6-foot-10 Sabonis is a double-double machine who seemingly could thrive in any system? The likelihood of a midseason deal involving Sabonis is slim, and for it to happen, the Pacers would almost certainly need a multi-layered package of promising young pieces and draft picks.
In light of those circumstances, guard Caris LaVert might be the player most likely to be dealt away before Feb. 10. LaVert provides instant offense at 18.1 points per game, and he likely could help any contender needing more firepower and playmaking in the backcourt.
Whether any of those deals need the sign of approval from Carlisle is unknown, but change is almost certainly coming to an Indiana team that flopped badly this season. Carlisle likely wants nothing to do with a major rebuild that figures to be painful for years to come, but at this point, there might be nothing he can do to avoid it.
Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.