Fouls, Matchups Hindered
O'Neal's Game in Worlds

by Conrad Brunner

September 10, 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

BRUNO'S MAILBAG
Conrad Brunner

Q. We don't get any coverage of the NBA and had none in the of World Championships televised, due to Australia not qualifying. So I was wondering if Jermaine O'Neal has shown any signs of him fulfilling or nearing one of the goals he set him self to do over the summer which is having a 3-point game? (From Ben in Adelaide, Australia)?

A. Jermaine did not attempt a 3-pointer in the event, and his mid-range jump shot wasn't falling. It was a very frustrating time for him because he struggled to adapt to the international style, battled constant foul trouble and dealt with minor injuries (a bruised back and sprained ankle). He also shot free throws very poorly (.421). All things considered, it was a forgettable two weeks for him. Because he was the best low-post offensive player on the roster, and also the tallest, he had to play center almost exclusively throughout the event and that also took its toll.

Q. How could the U.S. lose three games (in the World Basketball Championship)? One game maybe but three? I was thinking, do you think they would have gotten a medal if they had had top NBA players such as Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant etc. etc. etc.? Paul Pierce may be the only player on the 2002 team that deserved the spot! What are your thoughts? (From Zack in Nashville, IN)

A. One word: teamwork. The U.S. had none, and teams like Argentina, Yugoslavia and Spain had plenty. Argentina won handily with one legitimate star (Emanuel Ginobili), one gifted post player (Fabricio Oberto) an NBA reject at point guard (Pepe Sanchez) and a fringe NBA player up front (Ruben Wolkowysky). Spain was much the same, with one proven star (Pau Gasol), one intriguing guard (Juan Carlos Navarro) and a cast of thousands. Yugoslavia had far more talent than those teams. In addition to the two NBA starters (Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac), they had at least two other players who could start (Marko Jaric and Dejan Bodiroga) and one young guard (Milos Vujanic) who could be starting for the Knicks in a couple of years. Yugoslavia won the gold because it had the greatest combination of talent and teamwork.

Even without the superstars you mentioned, the U.S. had by far the most overall talent in the competition, which makes the losses all the more frustrating. It's easy to identify the problem: lack of preparation time. Finding the solution is much, much harder. Is it reasonable to expect NBA players to give up two months of their offseason to train for international competitions like the World Championship and Olympics? Remember, the NBA calendar begins with training camp on Oct. 1 the regular-season ends in mid-April. Throw in the playoffs, and most players are already working most every day for anywhere from seven to nine months. In Europe, the seasons have far fewer games and do not last as long, so there are more opportunities for star players to train with national teams.

Because of the system in place here, I'm not sure there is a practical solution. What the U.S. needs, if it really wants to commit to winning international competitions from now on, is a full-time national team. The roster doesn't have to comprise the biggest stars. If one or two key players could be persuaded to make the commitment along with several role-players, the team could train for a month or so every offseason (perhaps during summer-league time) and participate in preparatory international tournaments. That way, when the big shows roll around, the U.S. might not be able to roll out a bunch of marquee names, but it could produce a much stronger team.

Q. I read on the ESPN site that acquiring Phoenix guard Penny Hardaway for Austin Croshere and Ron Mercer would be a good fit for both teams. What do you think? Is this the kind of championship move Donnie Walsh is aiming for? (From Jixun in Manila, Philippines)

A. The rumors making the rounds lately - this one and one involving Gary Payton - aren't even really rumors. They're just theories advanced by writers offering suggestions as to how the Pacers could improve the team.

Q. For the first time, I have been following free agent movement in the NBA a little more closely. I can only shake my head at some things: For instance, Donyell Marshall's agent turned down an offer from the Jazz saying that other teams would pay more. Then the Jazz turned to (Matt) Harpring, and Marshall had to sign with the Chicago Bulls for the midlevel exception money. On the other hand, Rashard Lewis is seriously considering to sign with the Mavs or Rockets for the midlevel exception, as he considers the Sonics offer too low, even though it would both mean more money and more years for him. Are these guys simply stupid or do they have the wrong agents? What do these developments on the free agent market mean for the Pacers who have to re-sign half of the team next summer? (From Andreas in Basel, Switzerland)

A. This has been the worst summer I can remember for free agents for a variety of reasons. For one, the salary cap actually went down (from $42.5 million last season to $40.271 million next season), so even less money was available to the marketplace. For another, the allure of next season's free-agent class is so strong, the primary motivation this summer has been to dump contracts in order to clear cap room in order to take a dive into the deep end of that pool. The Pacers are in an interesting position. At the moment, they only have four players under contract for the 2003-04 season (Austin Croshere, Al Harrington, Primoz Brezec and Jamaal Tinsley), with salaries totaling around $23 million. That could give them at least $17 million to play with next summer. Much of that could be consumed by the re-signing of key players, among them Jermaine O'Neal, Brad Miller, Jeff Foster, Ron Artest and possibly Reggie Miller. At the very least, however, Donnie Walsh will have a great deal of flexibility for decision-making next year.

Q. Have the Pacers a real chance to win the championship this year? I think the Pacers have very good players in every position, except point guard. ... Jamaal Tinsley isn't a bad point guard, he makes a lot of assists and has a great vision. But he must improve his shot. The Pacers needs a third offensive player in the team. That's the situation of the Pacers right now. Will this Pacers team be a winner? (From Cristian in Valdivia, Chile)

A. Give Jamaal Tinsley another year before you decide he isn't the guy. Remember, he was a rookie starter at a very difficult position and, all things considered, held up very well. He will come to training camp completely healthy and in superior physical condition, which wasn't the case last year, and has spent the offseason working on his body and his shot. I don't think the team lacks scorers, particularly with Al Harrington's return. But is this a championship team? Not yet. There's only one championship-level team in the NBA, and it's the one with Shaquille O'Neal. Everyone else is playing for second place.

Q. The fact all remains quiet on the home front has me as a Pacers fan a bit edgy. I am sure much is happening behind closed doors, which brings me to my question. Since it appears the class of free agents for next year is much richer than this year, and the feeling that this Pacers club is not far from being a legitimate contender, would you assume that perhaps Donnie Walsh' main concern, even above a trade, is getting contracts signed to the key players who can be re-signed in October? I just kind of get the feeling that Walsh isn't out there necessarily shopping for a trade, and if this ballclub began the season with exactly who we have, that would be perfectly fine. I think keeping the main nucleus of this club is of extreme importance, and I was wondering what your thoughts on that issue are? (From Jeff in New Castle, IN)

A. Retaining the nucleus of the team is indeed a priority. So is identifying which players are essential to that nucleus. While Donnie Walsh is committed to re-signing the eligible fourth-year players (Jeff Foster, Ron Artest and Jonathan Bender) if possible, he isn't going to break the bank to do so. That said, though there's nothing in the hopper at the moment, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a trade this summer.

Q. I am a huge Pacers fan living in San Antonio and recently the local sports radio guys have been talking about the Spurs moves this offseason being made to make room to sign Jermaine O'Neal the next year when they have plenty of cap room. Do the Pacers have enough money to keep him a Pacer? Also, it's no secret his closest friends play in Indiana, do they have to stay as part of the deal? (From Tom in San Antonio)

A. Seems to me the hot topic in San Antonio would center more on keeping Tim Duncan, since virtually every team in the NBA would like to get involved in the bidding for him next July. No doubt, Jermaine O'Neal will attract interest from many teams but, given the current salary structure of the NBA, the Pacers can pay him slightly more than anyone else (because they can give him seven seasons, whereas other teams can only give six). The same is true with the Spurs and Duncan. Teams can also go over the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents, so cap space isn't an issue. If O'Neal wants to remain with the Pacers, there is no reason it can't happen.

Q. We've all heard the encouraging reports this summer regarding Jamaal Tinsley's improved work ethic, and Al Harrington's knee. One key player whose offseason regimen I haven't heard anything about is Brad Miller (who's openly admitted that last summer was the first time that he made training in the offseason a priority). What's he been up to? Please tell me that it hasn't just been hunting and fishing. (From Jeff in Pittsburgh)

A. Never underestimate the therapeutic value of a summer of hunting and fishing. But that wasn't all Brad Miller has done. At the end of every season, every player is given a tailored offseason program designed to work on specific needs. He wanted to add upper body strength, so he's been on a weight-training program as well as the usual conditioning work. When training camp arrives, we'll all be able to see the results.

Q. I graduated from Michigan State and remain an avid fan. One of my all-time favorite Spartans is Charlie Bell, who played, and played well, for the Pacers' summer league team. I read today that he won't be returning to the Italian team he played on last year (Trajan Langdon is taking his spot), from which I infer that he thinks he has a good shot to make an NBA roster. If the Pacers don't resign Kevin Ollie, would they be interested in picking him up? (From Joe in Chicago)

A. He did play very well for the Pacers but, alas, there was no roster opening available, so Charlie Bell has indeed decided to return to Italy, albeit with a different team. He signed with Pallacanerstro Virtus Bologna last month. As for keeping up with players, an excellent place is Telebasket.com's Superguide.

Q. Can you give me a projected starting lineup for next year? (From Joe in Frankfort, IN)

A. Here you go, the projected starters with primary backups backup listed in parentheses. Point guard - Jamaal Tinsley (Erick Strickland). Shooting guard - Reggie Miller (Ron Mercer). Small forward - Al Harrington (Ron Artest). Power forward - Jermaine O'Neal (Jeff Foster). Center - Brad Miller (Foster).