Carlisle won't return as Pacers head coach

Updated: April 26, 2007, 2:30 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Now that Rick Carlisle is out as the coach of the Indiana Pacers, the team needs to figure out what is next.

Carlisle was fired Wednesday after a season in which the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

The Pacers finished the season 35-47, their worst since 1988-89. Indiana was 29-24 shortly after the All-Star break, but lost its next 11 games to fall out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

Examining Carlisle's Downfall

Rick Carlisle won 61 games in his first season in Indiana, but the accomplishment was a footnote next to the backlash of the 2004 Palace brawl -- the flashpoint to the deterioration of a talented but troubled collection of players. A look at the four-year tenure of Carlisle:

Pacers coaching career
Season W-L Pct. East
2003-04 61-21 .744 First

• Lost East finals in six to Pistons
2004-05 44-38 .537 Sixth

• Lost East semifinals in six to Pistons
2005-06 41-41 .500 Sixth

• Lost East first round in six to Nets
2006-07 35-47 .427 Ninth

• None, first time since 1996-97 season
Overall 181-147 .552  

Carlisle said he enjoyed his four-year run with the team and understood that it was time for the Pacers to hear a "new voice." With the first major postseason move out of the way, team president Larry Bird said anything is possible -- and the new coach might have to adjust.

"We don't know the direction," he said. "We have an idea, but if there's something out there that can be a major trade, we'll probably do it if it benefits us. He's got to understand going in that we will trade any one of these players, and it might not be what he likes, but he's got to know that going in."

"Any of these players" includes forward Jermaine O'Neal and point guard Jamaal Tinsley, the team's top commodities. O'Neal says he's not interested in being part of a rebuilding project and Tinsley could follow Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson as Indiana players traded following off-the-court offenses.

O'Neal averaged 19.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in one of the best seasons of his 11-year career. He's a six-time All-Star who finished third in fan voting this year for the Pacers' 40th anniversary team.

But O'Neal missed 13 games with various injuries and illnesses. He had surgery Wednesday to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee that hobbled him the last two months of the season. He has missed 82 games the past three seasons -- an amount that equals an entire regular-season's worth of games.

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Tinsley had one of his best seasons and was more durable than usual. He averaged 12.8 points and 6.9 assists in 72 games, the most games he's played since 2002-03.

But Tinsley's off-the-court problems include a felony charge he faces from a February bar fight in Indianapolis. He also was present in October at a fight outside a strip club that has Jackson facing charges for firing a gun.

Bird's pledge to continue to crack down on such behavior puts Tinsley's status as a Pacer in jeopardy.

"It's an embarrassment," Bird said. "What we've done is we've gotten rid of the players. We traded them guys, and we will continue to trade them in the future if we have trouble with them."

Carlisle's tenure was less about wins and losses and more about his struggle to manage talented but volatile players. He always will be linked with Artest and Jackson, the two most prominent players in the 2004 brawl between Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans. That brawl started the unraveling of a team that had the potential to make several title runs.

In the Pacers' first year under Carlisle in 2003-04, they went 61-21 for the best record in the NBA, and the club reached the Eastern Conference finals. But the Pacers lost more games each of the next three seasons and Carlisle ended with a 181-147 record over his four years since replacing Isiah Thomas.

Bird said he's not interested in coaching the team he led to the NBA Finals in 2000 with Carlisle, a former Boston teammate, as one of his assistants.

Carlisle and Bird said the coaching search could include candidates already with the organization. Carlisle said Pacers assistants Johnny Davis and Chuck Person are ready to step in. Davis has made head coaching stops in Orlando and Philadelphia.

Carlisle mentioned Toronto coach Sam Mitchell, a former Pacer who just was named NBA Coach of the Year; Phoenix assistant Marc Iavaroni; former Pacer Mark Jackson; and Boston assistant coach Tony Brown, another former Pacer. He even mentioned Reggie Miller, the Pacers' career scoring leader. Miller, a TNT basketball analyst, had no comment on the matter.

Even with the brawl year, Carlisle said this season was the toughest he's had in coaching, and the situation was made more difficult because of his close friendship with Bird. Carlisle said he spoke with Bird on Tuesday and they decided that whichever of them dies first, the other will read the eulogy.

"I've seen other friends part ways and never speak again," Bird said, "but that's not the way it's going to be with us."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press