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News » Pacers are new, hope to be improved

Pacers are new, hope to be improved

Pacers are new, hope to be improved
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The most visible Indiana Pacers from the past three years were nowhere to be found Monday on the team's media day.

Jermaine O'Neal was traded to Toronto in the offseason. The Pacers have said Jamaal Tinsley will not play for them again after his on-court antics and off-court problems damaged their reputation. Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson have been gone for a while now, traded in the Pacers' effort to rid themselves of malcontents.

Jeff Foster and Austin Croshere are the only players left from the team involved in the brawl with Detroit Pistons fans in 2004, and Croshere was a recent addition who is not promised a spot on the team. After two draft-day moves and the Croshere pickup, eight new players showed up for Media Day. The Pacers hope the changes help the franchise start winning again, project a more wholesome image and improve last season's league-worst attendance.

"Whole new ballgame this go-round," coach Jim O'Brien said. "We're virtually starting with half the team that is new, and very positive additions to our basketball team and our franchise."

Team president Larry Bird got busy after the team went 36-46 and missed the playoffs last season. The Pacers had one of the best offenses and worst defenses in league last season, prompting Bird to add speed at the guard spots and size in the post.

The team appears to be building around a mainstay, fourth-year forward Danny Granger. He averaged 19.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.

O'Brien knows Granger can score. Now, he wants to see him become a dominant defensive player.

"I would hope he impacts it from a leadership standpoint at the defensive end more than any other area," he said.

Mike Dunleavy is coming off a breakout season. The shooting guard averaged 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season and he believes he can be better this year.

O'Brien applauded Granger and Dunleavy for their production last season, but said gaudy statistics won't matter if the Pacers miss the playoffs again.

"Danny and Mike put up big numbers, but everybody in the league will say people don't pay attention to big numbers if they come on a mediocre basketball team."

Granger said he knows the Pacers are an afterthought without the big names from the past.

"We've got a big opportunity in front of us," he said. "A lot of people are not expecting much from us. Sometimes, that's a good thing."

The key pickup was point guard T.J. Ford, who likely will replace Tinsley, who remains on the roster but isn't expected to play. Ford averaged 12.1 points and 6.1 assists per game for the Raptors last season before coming to the Pacers in the O'Neal trade.

Granger is excited to have Ford as the point guard, and compared him to San Antonio point guard Tony Parker.

"He's incredibly fast," Granger said. "He's a pass-first point guard, and he can score the ball."

Granger, Dunleavy and Ford are among those expected to fill O'Neal's leadership role.

"I think it's going to be a bunch of guys," O'Brien said. "The best teams I've ever been around have had a bunch of leaders who feel comfortable leading and very comfortable in allowing other people to lead also."

The Pacers also added point guard Jarrett Jack in a trade with Portland. Jack is expected to play both guard spots and push Ford.

O'Brien said Troy Murphy is the favorite to start at power forward. He averaged 12.2 points and 7.2 rebounds last season.

The battle for the starting center spot likely will be the most contested. Jeff Foster remains, but the team added Rasho Nesterovic and draft pick Roy Hibbert in the trade with Toronto.

"We want there to be great competition," O'Brien said. "We want there to be daily wars at that position, to see people getting their lips cut and nose bloodied so that whoever gets that job will be toughened by his teammates."

Another player to watch is Brandon Rush, a rookie who helped Kansas win the college national championship last season.

The new-look Pacers expect to make the postseason this season.

"That's the only way I can look at things," O'Brien said. "If we get accomplished team leadership, team ownership for defense, absolutely, we'll be in the playoffs."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: September 30, 2008


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