Thomas and Miller Press Conference Archive

October 3, 2001


(what did you learn about yourself last season?)
I learned my team. I learned the players that I had. Sitting and watching guys play on television, and then having the privilege to coach them is something entirely different. You learn what they really can do and what they really can't do. A lot of the players that I had heard about, in terms of the younger players, I had never really saw them play. So having the opportunity to see them play, what they can and can't do, their strengths and weaknesses, what they need to work on, I would say that's the most telling thing that I learned last year. I really learned my team, and the players that I coach.

(how different are the expectations this year?)
We want to develop our players to completion. That's what we talked about last year and that's what this summer was all about, having complete players so we can play a style I want to play, which is having interchangeable parts where people can play all over the floor and be very effective. Last year, we established a value base for this team in terms of the foundation from which we'll play. Those five things were commitment, courage, respect, loyalty and trust. Those are the things I saw last year that we can build our foundation on and build our values into. Understanding what we are and what we represent in terms of Pacers, that will go a long way in establishing the identity of who we are and what our vision is.

(how have your players improved?)
What we asked our players to do was to become complete. I guess that's a new thing in the NBA. I guess you don't ask your guys to get better so we asked our guys to work over the summer and actually get better and work on their games, and they did that. In order for us to become the team, and win a championship, our guys must get better. We must develop from within. And that must be complete. There's no phase or no area out on the floor that you shouldn't be able to play in. You should be able to master and play all parts of the game. Once you do that, you become interchangeable and once you become interchangeable it's very tough to guard you, scout you and play against you.

What I mean by that is you look at basketball and you're confined to boxes where you play the one, you play the two, you play the three, you play the four, you play the five. What that means is your one has specific skills, your two has specific skills and your three has specific skills. What I've asked our players to do is develop all those boxes where you're skilled in the low post, you're skilled outside on the perimeter, and therefore you're not confined to any area of the court. You can really play 94 feet as opposed to playing in an eight-foot box.

(are you achieving that goal?)
I felt last year at the start of the season, it was a really tough concept for some of our guys to grasp. But the more we stuck with it, the more you saw that at the end of the season we were able to move guys all around the floor and everybody didn't really have a position. You were able to put personalities and skill sets out on the floor. If you watch the championship and you watch Philadelphia and Los Angeles, that's how they play. You've really got to be able to develop your players to completion and that's what we do here in Indiana. That's what we'll be known for. That will be our identity: complete players with a set of values and a vision.

(how will that philosophy impact the lineup?)
The players determine that. The best players play all the time. I don't necessarily believe that just because you were the best player in October in training camp means that you're still better than that guy in March. That's not how it goes. If the person behind you is steadily working and he's getting better than you, then he'll play before you. I don't give out anything for free and the best people play all the time. That's the way it was when I was in grade school, that's the way it was when I was in high school, that's the way it was when I was in college. I think true professionals and true athletes, that's the way they want it. The best player should always play and you should always have pressure on you to improve and get better. Just because you play 25 good days in October, that doesn't mean you're going to be playing in March because if you don't continue to work on your game, then the guy who's playing behind you is going to play before you.

(other than reggie, jalen and jermaine, who will start?)
I would say it's safe to say those three guys will be out on the floor at the start of the game. Everyone else has got to compete for the spot. Best man wins.

(how much zone will you teach in camp?)
I think some teams will experiment with it. We'll probably do some experimenting with it also. We'll definitely spend some time covering zone because other teams will probably try to play it. We'll do probably a combination of man-to-man and zone.

(what effect will the new rules have?)
The great players and the good players will always find a way.

(what effect will they have on you as a coach?)
It gives coaches some extra tools in their bag to play with.

(are the young players ready?)
I think they've definitely improved, skill-wise. What they have to get better at and what the challenge will be to all of those guys is to make better reads. The way I think the game should be played is you read and you react to that defender. Even though you may possess the skill to overpower that defender, that doesn't necessarily mean you're making the correct read. What I will be stressing in training camp for all of these guys is to read better, to learn your reads. I don't know how many of you are football fans but when you hear those guys talk, that's what they're talking about. You constantly hear Peyton Manning say he made the right read, or (the receiver) made the right cut. Basketball's the same way. And our young guys last year where they may have been highly skilled, they couldn't exercise those skills because they couldn't make the correct reads. They didn't know what they were seeing.

(how do you assess the changes in the East?)
If Olajuwon is Olajuwon, I think he definitely helps Toronto. I think Philly comes back with the MVP of the league and also Dikembe Mutombo, so they'll still be Philly. The way Charlotte ended the season, even though they lost an important player to Chicago, I still think they'll be good because of the way they played in the playoffs. And Milwaukee has a chance to be really good. Orlando is very intriguing because of Grant Hill coming back and then you add Horace Grant and Patrick Ewing. If they can put all that together, it's an interesting team to watch. I don't know how Miami will be with or without Mourning.

(how will you make do at center?)
Mainly through matchups and we'll depend a lot on speed, quickness and athleticism. I think our length can be very effective, and I think we can mismatch other positions. So if we can't dominate you in the middle with a 360-pound guy, then we'll try to mismatch you some other way and find a way to beat you. With our speed, our athleticism and our length, we will try to counteract the imposing physical presence some of the other teams possess.

(will tinsley be expected to step in this year?)
When you talk about Jamaal Tinsley, you're really talking about a player who's complete. He can play on the perimeter, he can play inside, he can defend, he can rebound, he can lead the break, he can run the wing, he can pull up, he can hit the J. He can do everything out on the floor you want, so when you talk about Jamaal Tinsley, you're talking about a guy who can play with Reggie, Jalen, Bruno, Jeff . . . he can play, so you put him out there. We want guys who can flat-out play the game of basketball. Where does Jalen play? Where does Reggie play? You put them out on the court and tell the other coach to find a guy to guard them.

(how do you sort out the logjam of forwards?)
You have them compete. Best player plays. And you've got 20 to 25 days to show me if you're better than this guy. In the old days when you didn't do that, you got cut.

(where does brezec figure into the center mix?)
It all depends on these days of camp. You really can't play until the players are out on the floor competing with the real pros. And real pros don't play in the summer. You can kind of get an idea what I guy can do in the summer league, but when the real guys show up, everybody gets a different personality than what they had in the summer. A guy can make shots in the summer, and then Reggie walks up and the guy all of a sudden can't shoot. You can project but you never really know until the real people show up and he has to play against the real people. Then, I can start projecting.

(what did you learn about yourself as a coach?)
I thought I allowed my players a chance to play and grow. The natural instinct is to not let guys get out there and make mistakes because it's going to cost you games and you're going to have some embarrassing moments. I learned that through patience these guys really can grow up and they really did get better. You had some tough knocks but at the end of the season, I learned that the instinct I had coming into the game about letting these guys grow up, make some mistakes and take some knocks, paid off for us.

Strategy-wise, I would say I learned more in the playoffs than I did in the regular season. And I learned in the playoffs that Larry Brown is really, really good - I mean really, really good. And I think if he hadn't had the extra days of preparation in between, we could've caught 'em and beat 'em.


(how much longer do you intend to play?)
A lot of that depends. If these young guys come equipped like I know they can and we get back to the level I was used to playing at, team-wise, it could be shorter. But if they don't come around as quickly as I thought, it could be longer.

(what are your expectations?)
There's no more excuses. There shouldn't be, from any of the young guys. Everyone has to be held accountable now. Last year I could understand because this was the first time a lot of them got extended minutes. They got used to the rigors of the NBA, to the travel, to the playing time. It took a while for the referees to get used to them, especially Jermaine, because he played extended minutes, so now they know his game. There's no excuses. Last year was somewhat like baby-sitting for these guys, but there's none of that this year. I'm expecting us to be one of the top teams in the league, especially in the East.

(are you encouraged by the summer work of Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender?)
One thing I am encouraged about is exactly what I wanted. I wanted Al skinny and I wanted J.B. fat. And you know that's tough for J.B., but he's put on weight and he's bulked up. That's what I really wanted because there was no way Jonathan was going to be able to compete at this level if his weight didn't change. He had to get heavier. Al was too think, and he needed to be a little leaner, and they both accomplished that.

(who can fill Sam Perkins' leadership void?)
For Travis and Jalen, this a chance to take control of this team. Uncle Reg is not going to be around for much longer so these guys need to take a little bit more control. A lot of it starts on the court but a lot of it starts off the court, being responsible. Whether you like it or not, being a leader has a lot to do with in the locker room, how you approach players and how you approach things. If you approach things in a professional manner and your teammates see that, they're going to respond to that. But if they get a sense you don't care, you're kind of giving them liberty to do the same.

(can you win without a true center?)
We definitely can compete in the East in the middle. You moreso worry about it when you go against L.A. or Sacramento or some of the teams that have centers like Shaq and Duncan and Robinson. In the East, Mutombo and Mourning, and with Hakeem and Antonio in Toronto, that's about it. It's a different ballgame from the East to the West. Would it have been nice to get a center? Yes, because then you could move Jermaine to four. I think eventually that's where Jermaine will end up. I think that's what he's most suited for. You're asking too much from Jermaine if you want him to guard the likes of Shaq or even an Alonzo or Mutombo and still get you 22 to 25 points and five or six blocks and 10-plus rebounds. That's asking too much of him. Yeah, he says he can do it, but that's asking a little bit too much. It'd be nice if he could be a natural four and you have someone else to do the dirty work for him.

(is there enough physical, and mental, ability to get back to the Finals?)
Physically, we have a lot of talent, no question. But mentally, I think that remains to be seen. You need years under you. You need experience. We played four games in the playoffs but you see how long it took for me to even get out of the first round before we beat Orlando that first time around. So that remains to be seen. If these guys are quick learners, then yeah, we do have enough talent.

(how important is it to lighten your load in terms of minutes?)
Last year was a little it odd for me because I played more minutes than I had in previous years. But I'm getting up there in age. I still feel like I can play all day. I still love the game. I condition myself for this. The rigors and the grind is what I like. This game doesn't come easy and I like doing it the hard way, so I don't mind it.

(how do you assess the changes in the East?)
I really think Toronto helped themselves by getting bid bodies, re-signing Antonio and getting Hakeem, junkyard dog and getting Vince back. I think they helped themselves. The playoff run Charlotte had, because they have so many big bodies. Milwaukee, taking Philadelphia to the last second is going to help them. By no stretch of the imagination is it going to be easy but I have a lot of confidence in these guys. When I got here, got a chance to look into their eyes and look at their bodies, I really do think they're hungry. I think the little success we had last year, the games we had to win to beat Boston and get into the playoffs, I think these guys are hungry. They're young, they're athletic, and that's what this league is headed toward.

(what was your first impression of Bender?)
I was shocked when I saw J.B. I mean, he's 7 feet now. He might be the first 7-foot shooting guard in the league so if he can't help us, something's wrong.

(is the team developing an identity?)
I hope we start with defense first. Offensively, we'll be fine.

(how do you assess the importance of Jalen Rose and Jermaine O'Neal?)
Jalen does so much for our team. He can play three positions, he can score, he can pass, he can rebound. If he plays anywhere near his potential, I believe we're already set. And Jermaine, and I told him this, if we're going to win a championship it's all going to ride on his shoulders because as much as we loved Dale Davis here, he has that type of presence because he can block shots. When we get beat on the perimeter, we encourage them to go into Jermaine because he has that type of defensive presence. On top of that, he's added a great offensive game, especially the second half of the season. Being in the Goodwill Games mentally helped him because he considers himself one of the elite big men in the game, which he is. And any time your enforcers start believing what he's believing right now, that's when you take off to another level. He was paging me all year claiming that no one can stop him. Starting Oct. 2, we'll see.

(what do you expect in terms of zone defenses?)
I don't know what kind of zones we're talking about. I can't fathom, because you're conditioned and brainwashed, no zone, no zone, no zone. When I think of a zone, I think of a 2-3, the kind they used to play in high school. If they play like that, great. But I don't think it'll be like that. I don't think it'll be that easy.

(how do you assess Isiah Thomas heading into his second year?)
The first year, the coaches are getting accustomed to the guys, what their tendencies are, what their work ethics are. It's very much like the same approach I'm taking: no excuses. They've seen these guys for a year now, they've had them during the summer. There are no more excuses. Coach Thomas knows what Jermaine, J.B. Al, Travis, Jalen myself, can do. From a preparation standpoint, they know everyone's strong points and weak points. It's a little bit easier coming into the second year because they know everybody's strengths and weaknesses.

He made adjustments according to each team and a lot of coaches don't do that. They pretty much play the same way and try to be consistent throughout the whole year. God bless Isiah, he made changes where changes had to be done on the fly, and we experimented a lot last year. That was the reason for a lot of the starting lineup changes, trying to find the right combination. And a lot of it was just seeing what his personnel was. Isiah's been really fair. He gave everyone in that locker room a shot. Either they started or played extended minutes at some point last year. So I think he was evaluating his team during the year. Those guys can't say they never got a shot.

(do you expect the lineup and rotations to stabilize?)
I'm sure he will now. It's a long year. It'd be nice to have a starting lineup for 82 games but we all know injuries are part of the game. But after him seeing his team last year, I think we will be pretty consistent. I don't want to speak for the man, but hopefully we will be pretty consistent.