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Off Topic: The State of the Indiana Pacers

The other night, the 2008-2009 Indiana Pacers ended their season. They finished this season with the exact same record the finished last season: 36-46. They missed the playoffs for the fourth third straight season, and they go into this off-season looking for more talent in the front court.

However, unlike past seasons, this year's 36-46 campaign does not feel like a wasted one. In fact, in many ways, this 36-46 team was one of the better Pacers teams I've enjoyed watching in recent memory.

Obviously, no one likes losing. I'd rather the Pacers have a winning season and make the playoffs. I don't care if they are the 8th seed or the 1st seed, the playoffs are everything.

Small side note- If you are hoping your team "tanks" so they can have a better shot a the lottery, then two things need to be said:

  • First, the NBA Draft Lottery system is utter crap, and needs to be either junked or refined.
  • And second, if you are hoping your team will lose so they can have a better chance at a magic ping pong ball, you yourself are a loser. No real fan wishes his team to lose. I don't care how bad things are. A 41-41 8th seeded team is a helluva lot better off than the friggin' Memphis Grizzlies.

That said, the Pacers were one of the more enjoyable sub-.500 teams to watch this year, which gives further credence to my long standing argument that fans are not necessarily looking for wins. Winning is great and makes people happy, but what makes fans even happier is consistent effort and passion from the team. For Pacers fans, we saw that kind of effort and passion opening night against the Celtics, when Danny Granger dove on the floor for a loose ball, knocked out several teeth, came back into the game, and helped destroy the defending world champions.

That game, and that play, set the tone for the season.

Were the Pacers the best team to watch? Obviously not. Even with Dick Harter coaching them, they can't play a lick of defense. They had injury problems (TJ Ford needs to stay healthy, or get the hell out of the NBA), and the absence of Mike Dunleavy really ruined their chances at a playoff shot.

But despite the record, the missed playoffs, the injuries, and the oftentimes low attendance, the positives far outweighed the negatives:

  • We saw Danny Granger emerge as an NBA All-Star. Sorry Reggie, but your head was up your ass when you said Granger didn't belong on the all-Star team. I love you, man. But that comment was about the dumbest thing I heard all year, which is saying something considering your work for the same network that employs Charles Barkley.
  • We saw Troy Murphy break Clark Kellogg's franchise record for double-doubles. Yes, the same Troy Murphy who was, basically, discarded by the Golden State Warriors.
  • We saw Jarrett Jack look more like Chauncey Billups than Chauncey Billups did this year.
  • We saw Brandon Rush lose his confidence, get put in the doghouse, battle back, and finally work his way into the starting lineup. That kid has tremendous skills, and might turn into a helluva player.
  • We saw Roy Hilbert play bigger and stronger and more consistent than Indiana's previous big man: Jermaine O'Neal.
  • We saw the Pacers score and score and score some more, creating a brand of exciting and fun basketball. This is in stark contrast to the teams under Rick Carlisle.

Along for the ride the entire time was Indy Corn Rows, and Cornrows' posts provided an amazing chronicle of this team rebuilding and remaking themselves. His blog is one of my favorite SB Nation blogs to read, and, unlike me, he does a good job of not letting his emotions cloud his overall impression of the team.

The Pacers will never have the kind of team LA or Boston has due to the NBA's horrid structure, which pisses on small market teams in favor of larger markets. This structure is one of the reasons why the NBA is in deep financial trouble while the NFL keeps on chugging along. Let this be yet another lesson sports leagues: Love your small markets. Without them, you're pretty much fringe on the coasts, and the rest of us "middle America" fans who live between NY and LA (who you routinely piss on) will sit back and enjoy the NFL and racing while your league flounder and die. That said, unlike previous years, I'm genuinely excited about this Pacers franchise as they head into the 2009-2010 season.

Maybe, just maybe, the Pacers can build a great team, and not a collection of bums sucking on the teet of their mega-star (who will likely bolt for a East or West Coast NBA team, making the league in general more and more fringe and irrelevant). When I see players like Granger, Rush, Jack, and Hilbert develop, it gives me hope that we may see a new, great Pacers team again in Indiana.

And when we do, Indy Corn Rows will be there to chronicle it all. Go Pacers!