Stephen Jackson likes to watch sports and old movies on television, but last month his remote was locked on The Weather Channel. His hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, was planted firmly, as if trying to draw a charge, in the path of Hurricane Rita. From Indianapolis, Jackson spoke by phone with family members who were snarled in traffic as they tried to flee. Growing increasingly nervous, Jackson chartered two private planes to fly to Jasper, Texas, where they picked up 30 members of his family and took them to Indy.
Though the stakes are considerably lower, the Pacers, too, are counting on Jackson to help deliver them to higher ground. Jackson has the unenviable task of succeeding Reggie Miller at shooting guard. While Jackson, 27, is hardly Miller's equal as an outside shooter--who is?--he is a capable defender with a full complement of offensive skills. Along with forwards Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal, he gives the Pacers a triple threat to rival that of any team in the league.
Just as Indiana's fine 2004-05 season was overshadowed by the Nov. 19 brawl with Pistons fans, the enduring image of Jackson from last year is not of a versatile scorer but of a player throwing haymakers in the stands that night. (Jackson was suspended for 30 games, and he was fined $250 by a Michigan judge, who sentenced him to community service and a year of probation.) Like the rest of the franchise, Jackson relishes entering this season with a clean slate. "You always come in with motivation, but we have more than usual," Jackson says. "The talent is here. It's a question of playing together and not losing our heads, myself included."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Pacers
They grew stronger because of last year's suspensions and injuries. As long as they have better luck with their health, they can be a tremendous team with a deep bench. My big question when they get to the playoffs: Do they have a responsible leader? ... Jamaal Tinsley is a good enough point guard to win a championship. He can score, push the pace and run their half-court sets. He may still make bad decisions, but he's getting better.... I wonder, though, about Stephen Jackson as their long-range shooter to replace Reggie Miller--it's easy to get him off his game by getting into his head.... People talk about how much they love Freddie Jones, but I look at tape and see nothing special.... I don't buy the criticism that Jermaine O'Neal is too soft. I see him getting smarter and tougher, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him playing more in the post.... Jeff Foster is a rock at center, a throwback. He has real limits physically, but you won't find a more consistent defender and rebounder--though over the course of a playoff series you can go at him and find ways to exploit him.... The word is that Jonathan Bender had a good summer of rehabilitation. If he contributes, they could shift Ron Artest to shooting guard and play Bender and O'Neal at the forwards--a scary, explosive pair of big men.
Because of injuries, illness and league-mandated suspensions last season, the Pacers had the maximum 12 players in uniform for only 17 of 82 games.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 44-38 (6th in East)
Points scored: 93.0 (25th in NBA)
Points allowed: 92.2 (5th)
Coach: Rick Carlisle
(third season with the Pacers)
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (Isreali League stats)
¬† JERMAINE MAN
O'Neal's versatility lets the Pacers play big or small, and the toughness he showed in last year's playoffs could pay big dividends in '06.