Did the NBA's Punishment Fit O'Neal's Crime?

by Jeff Tzucker
by Conrad Brunner

March 29, 2002

If you'd like to ask a question of Pacers.com analyst Conrad Brunner, submit it along with your full name and hometown to Bruno's_mailbag@pacers.com

Conrad Brunner

Q. Is it just me, or was the two-game suspension on Jermaine O'Neal too lenient? I watched film of the altercation on (ESPN) and I immediately thought he'd get at least five games. First, he commits a flagrant foul out of frustration, then retaliates to Corliss Williamson's actions by punching him, followed by roundhouses to Ben Wallace and Michael Curry, who both were trying to stop the fight. Now, I'm not saying that I'm a Pistons fan (my heart will always belong to the Pacers), but it does seem too lenient that Jermaine can get only two games, while Jonathan Bender, Primoz Brezec, and Bruno Sundov can get one game each just for leaving the bench. (From Jason in Honolulu, HI)

A. It's actually a fairly automatic process. When the NBA reviews any such altercation, if it decides a punch was thrown, it's at least two games. There was really only clear video evidence of one punch, thrown toward Michael Curry, although the league concluded O'Neal also threw a punch at Ben Wallace. For a player to draw a longer suspension, typically he must be a multiple offender, or his actions would have to have been deemed extraordinarily violent. Since this was O'Neal's first such incident and no real damage was done, he was given the basic penalty. The rules are quite clear about leaving the bench. It doesn't matter if you get directly involved or not, if you leave the bench area you're going to be suspended for a game. That rule was written to discourage the escalation of bench-clearing brawls, and has had the desired effect. The surprise in the ruling was that Williamson was only fined and not suspended. Had he not whipped the ball at O'Neal immediately after the initial flagrant foul, there's a chance nothing further would've happened.

Q. Reggie Miller's jersey now says "R. Miller" (on the back). In all of the previous years he has played with the Pacers, has there ever been another Miller on the team? (From Donna in Indianapolis)

A. In the history of the franchise, only two other Millers have worn the uniform: Jay Miller (6-5, UCLA) from 1968-71 and Dick Miller (6-7, Toledo) in 1980-81. This is the first time the initial has been necessary.

Q. How far in the seeding do you think they can get? I think it would be best to avoid New Jersey until the Eastern Conference finals. (From Jong in College Station, TX)

A. A week ago, I would've said fourth place was within realistic reach. Though it still is on paper, the Pacers' first priority must become protecting their current standing. Toronto is coming on strong in ninth place, and two games with the Raptors remain on the schedule. While I understand your point about trying to avoid the Nets as long as possible, I would also submit that there is no team in the East that will enter the playoffs as a prohibitive favorite, not even the top-seeded Nets. All four lower-seeded teams could win the first-round series and few, if any, would be surprised. It's not like the recent past, when a team would desperately try to avoid a matchup with the Bulls, or before that, the Celtics. There are no unbeatable teams in the East this year.

Q. What current playoff team do you think the Pacers match up well against? I think Detroit because they do not have to worry about Jerry Stackhouse scoring a lot. I think the only one they have to worry about a lot is Ben Wallace because not only he plays aggressive defense (blocks) but he also gets offensive and defensive rebounds. I think he is the one that is going to hurt them a lot. Other than him, they do not have to worry about anybody else because to me they do not have any offensive threat that is capable of scoring many points. The only reason why they have a better record is because they play as a team and Jerry Stackhouse is not scoring a whole bunch of points instead he his being an all-around player. What do you think? Is Detroit the team they match up well or is it another team like Orlando? (From Christian in Hawthorne, CA)

A. The Pacers are 8-15 against the teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. They already have lost season series to the Nets, Pistons, Bucks, Hornets and Celtics. The only team they have enjoyed consistent success against is Orlando, and there appears to be little chance of meeting the Magic in the first round. Philadelphia actually might be the best team to draw early because of Allen Iverson's injury. As for the Pistons, you touched upon the very reason they will be a difficult matchup: they do play as a team, all the time, every game, and have therefore been able to rise above the sum of their parts. Stackhouse's transformation is the prime example. That kind of opponent is much more difficult to beat than one with greater talent but lesser chemistry.

Q. Personally, I think that the Pacers are capable of reaching the second round of the playoffs this season (if they make the playoffs), but do you think that this team has what it takes to be a contender for the Eastern
Conference title? (From Ace in the Philippines)

A. Physically, there are no teams in the East that can overmatch the Pacers. Mentally, however, this is a team that has not demonstrated the necessary focus, discipline, consistency and toughness it takes to grind its way through an extended postseason run.

Q. I was wondering if UCLA's Billy Knight is related to former Pacer Billy Knight. His bio on the Internet says: Fun fact: Knight's father, Billy, Sr., is a former NBA All-Star and has had an extensive career working in NBA front offices. Which former Pacer Billy, fits that bill? But when CBS showed Billy Knight's parents on TV, it sure didn't look like the former Pacer. Can you shed some light? (From Charlie in Florence, KY)

A. Whoever wrote that bio on the Internet was spreading some bad information. The Billy Knight who played for the Pacers, then spent several years in the front office before taking the general manager's job in Memphis, only has one child - a daughter, Olivia.

Q. How come that every time the Pacers have a run of victories from strong teams and have a good chance for playoff positioning, they tumble and lose at teams with losing records. Does it mean that the Pacers are being complacent on teams with losing records? Or is the maturity and the cohesiveness of the team that is being reflected? (From Sherwin in Manila, Philippines)

A. It's a combination of both. While the Pacers have shown the ability to rise to the challenge against top competition, they frequently seem disinterested against lesser teams. This comes down to maturity and experience, understanding that a victory over Memphis counts just as much in the standings as a victory over Sacramento.

Q. I live in England but I am a big Pacers fan. What I want to know is when the Pacers will be bringing out a new uniform? Is it for next season? (From Alex in Wigan, England)

A. There are no plans to change the uniforms at present, although the warmups may undergo a re-design. The Pacers have worn their current pinstriped design since 1997. Prior to that, they wore the more trendy togs designed by Florence Griffith-Joyner beginning in 1990.

Q. My question is regarding the point guard position. Jamaal Tinsley has had a great year, but how safe is it to rely on a rookie in the playoffs? That could be the weak link in the Pacer lineup. Do the Pacers rate this as a major problem, and if so, what will be done? Will they draft a point guard, or re-sign Kevin Ollie? Will Travis Best return or will Jamison Brewer get more playing time? (From Vikhyat in Pune, India)

A. While he is a rookie this year, and that will be a concern heading into the postseason, there is no doubt that Tinsley is this franchise's starting point guard of the future. The only question centers around the backup spot and Kevin Ollie has played so well, it'd be a surprise if he isn't re-signed. The jury is still out on Jamison Brewer. Don't look for Travis Best to return. If he doesn't stay in Chicago, he'll be in the market for more money and a larger role than the Pacers can offer.

Q. Our home record which currently stands at an above-average 20-14. My question is what has happened to our once invincible home-court advantage? If I'm not wrong, two years ago, our home record was an incredible 36-5. Yes, I know, we're still a rebuilding team and a team that is still finding correct team chemistry. But that still cannot justify our current home record. I mean it was just two years ago. Is it also to do with the crowd of the Conseco? (From Melvyn in Singapore)

A. The team's inability to protect its home floor has been one of many mysteries this season - and last season, for that matter. With their next home loss, the Pacers will have 30 in consecutive seasons; not since 1984-86 will they have had back-to-back seasons with more home losses. All that can be stated with any certainty is that the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd bears no responsibility. The fans remain among the most enthusiastic in the league. The team has simply struggled to succeed in situations where it is expected to win - and that includes home games.