Tyler Hansbrough to Start? Jim O'Brien Insinuates As Much in His Now-Typical, Antagonistic Tone

Tyler Hansbrough started the second half tonight against Los Angeles, and it sure sounds like Josh McRoberts will be sitting next to the coach during the tip-off against the Cleveland Cavaliers while Hansbrough tries to help on the boards.

“Josh was getting dominated,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “He had one rebound. We needed rebounders in there. I’m going to stick with Roy [Hibbert] because we don’t have options. Roy is going to be our starting center. We have options at power forward.”

If he is going to make the move, I suppose he has to let people know that it’s because Josh is playing poorly, not because Tyler has really earned a larger role

But in doing so, this marks the third player in as many days that coach O’Brien has called out publicly for poor play. It also makes admonishment number two for Roy Hibbert (and another for Solomon Jones) if you take the “we don’t have options” comment as meaning “I would sit that bum if I could but have you seen that other guy shoot a basketball?”

Here’s what O’Brien said about Hibbert the other day.

“I think that Roy would say – and I certainly share this belief – I don’t think he’s having a very good season,” O’Brien said. “I think that he can play at a much higher level right away than he’s doing right now.”

O’Brien wasn’t finished.

“I don’t think he’s being the facilitator of our offense that I think he’s going to become,” he said. “I think he’s a great passer. I think he can be a much better rebounder. And my expectations probably aren’t as high as Roy’s expectations.

“So even though he could be mentioned as Most Improved, I think he has a long way to go and he has a long way to go this year.”

Harsh indeed.

Then again, it is honest. Hibbert has been playing like hot garbage for about two weeks now. Even he admitted that he has been “playing like crap” ever since the Pacers came back from their much ballyhooed West Coast road trip that featured a convincing win over the Lakers and a 2-2 outcome.

Then there was O’Brien’s reaction to his point guard’s frustrations with the point guard rotation. Darren Collison had described the fact that he was sometimes on the bench during crunch time as “tough” — to which coach said this.

“Guess what? When you play in the NBA, there are 12 guys that get an uniform and it’s tough,” O’Brien said. “That’s why they call it the big league.”

Collison has had a difficult time running O’Brien’s pass-oriented offense and playing the type of defense his coach expects every game.

“He’s our starting point guard and he’s getting 30 minutes a game,” O’Brien said. “Again, any first- or second-year guy, it’s a matter of getting minutes.

“He’s getting minutes. He’ll find his stride.”

Another zinger there from the coach in the first quote: “That’s why they call it the big league.”

Honestly, I don’t have a strong opinion either way on whether or not a coach should regularly scold his players in the press. Sometimes, I’m sure it is effective motivation. Often, I’m sure it’s the same thing the coach tells the player in private so it’s not exactly “news” to the person whose name gets mentioned.

On the other hand, it sure is a curious leadership strategy.

I will say this: I think honestly assessing situations is always the preferred route in almost all situations. Some coaches sugarcoat the situation and are way to happy-go-lucky when reacting to questions from the press about their struggles. Others go too far in the other direction and take a gloom-and-doom outlook about everything even when things are going well.

To me, it’s less about the demeanor than it is the truth.

Three currently active Hall of Fame coaches can be awfully grumpy. Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan, while certainly all different guys with different outlooks, rarely provide and Pollyanna sentiments but they are almost always very honest in their assessments. They rarely give off the vibe that they are buddies with their players, but they do usually tell you what they think is working well while also being sure to point out the flaws of their team and their players.

Doc Rivers is sort of the antithesis of this style. He is equally honest, but there is a “we’ll work it out” positivity that doesn’t necessarily always come through with Sloan, Pop or Phil. Maybe it’s because of the age difference, but their characterizations tend to be “I just saw this … who knows if it will change? I’ll keep telling the guys what to do but I can’t tell you whether or not they’ll actually listen and execute. Next question.” Doc is more likely to tell a reporter that ‘Big Baby is struggling right now and he is lost out there in the rotations, but he knows what he needs to do and he’ll pick it up.”

While I’m in no way trying to compare Jim O’Brien to the three four coaches in this sport (with apologies to Stan Van Gundy), his recent trend of calling out players by name, while somewhat odd in the midst of what even during this bad stretch has so far been a positive season, has been honest.

But it certainly is starting to seem like he’s going out of his way to mention guys by name for some reason, which just seems odd to do with a young team. Odd if you’re Jim O’Brien anyway. Maybe a guy with a finger full of rings like Pop can rip Tony Parker in the paper and nothing will come out of it, but when you have a career record 297-312 and you’re trying to get a roster of middling talent in their early 20s to follow your lead, you might start alienating some people.

You might want to slow your roll is what I’m basically trying to say, Jimmy.

You’re being honest. And the names your calling out can’t claim they don’t deserve to be called out. But perhaps you’re being too honest.

You had a good thing going for the month of November and you had a roster full of players who looked fully committed to the defensive system you implemented. If we’re going to stick to the honesty theme here, that was pretty much only reason you were winning games and starting to become a “league pass” darling for media folks, most of whom have been increasingly interested in watching games involving a franchise they had not cared about in at least three years. The offensive system you’re trying to get these guys to execute has not been effective. But you already know this.

Look, I’m not an Xs and Os genius by any stretch of the imagination. But if the defensive effort — the current keystone to any success this team has had this season — starts to wane even a little bit, this whole 11-13 thing might actually look pretty good come January 1 instead of making us think the team is going through a temporary slump against good competition.

That’s real talk, Coach.

I know you can appreciate that.

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Tags: Darren Collison Jim O'Brien Josh McRoberts Roy Hibbert Solomon Jones Tyler Hansbrough

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