Pacers fans know: TJ Ford has been nothing but the consummate pro over the past two-plus years as his role has continually been marginalized on this team. He was a slated to be a starter then he backed up Jarrett Jack but then Jack went to Toronto and he was again poised to run the first unit only to be supplanted by journeyman Earl Watson. Then even AJ Price passed him in the rotation, and the team traded for Darren Collison in the offseason and drafted Lance Stephenson, both of whom the franchise considered a part of the future nucleus — something it became clear that TJ is not.
TJ’s name was permanently affixed to the trading block as he was essentially relegated to assistant coach status and routinely, at least by the actions we saw in terms of how minutes were handed out, shown that he is really nothing more than a warm body for practice. I know it’s an unfortunate reality of today’s era of professional sports and athletes with guaranteed contracts, but many, many, many men would become major distractions to their teams in such situations.
If not continually demanding a trade publicly and talking junk in the press, they would do the same things that us non-multimillionaire employees unsatisfied by our challenge-less work environment do: show up late, call in sick, do the bare minimum not to get fired, look and act unprofessional, undermine our supervisors, etc. Pacers fans may be able to recall another point guard in NBA history whose behavior fits some of those characterizations.
I’m not in the locker room very much and have only spoken with TJ a few times in my life, but to my knowledge, TJ has done none of that. At least not habitually. And when he was called on last night to play some spot minutes for the injured Darren Collison, he played admirably.
He scored 5 points and had 1 assist against only 1 turnover in his 8 minutes. Meanwhile, most importantly the Pacers outscored the Bulls by 7 points while he was on the court, due in part to him making both the shots he took — including the 70-footer to close the third quarter shown in the video below.
There was a lot of praise thrown at Celtics reserve Nate Robinson for staying ready and playing at a high level in the playoffs for Boston last year despite not really being in the team’s rotation during the end of the regular season. On a smaller scale, TJ Ford did the same thing last night.
We also saw a similar ability to remain focused enough to step in and play big minutes out of the blue by Dahntay Jones earlier this year. He barely saw the floor under Jim O’Brien. Then O’Brien was canned, Frank Vogel took the reins and, soon after, Dahntay started getting some burn. He responded by shooting 17-for-26 and averaging 16 points in the first three games in which he played at least 15 minutes — two of which were Indiana wins and the other of which was a close loss to Miami.
Now, if Collison is indeed sitting in suit on the bench during Game 3, TJ will have to jump in an play even more minutes. Based on everything I have seen during his tenure in Indiana, I imagine he’ll be ready to do so. And if he is, like he was last night and Dahntay was earlier in the year, we should share some of the praise with Vogel.
I don’t know exactly what management quality it takes to keep players ready during times when they should naturally be disgruntled in their jobs, but Doc Rivers did it last year and rightfully received his due credit.
Vogel may deserve some accolades for this as well.