Walsh’s words proved prophetic. But despite Brown’s initial success, the Pacers lost in the first round of the playoffs in 1996 and didn’t make the playoffs in 1997. He resigned, saying he felt shame that the team didn’t make the playoffs and he wanted more input into personnel moves. He did manage to leave with his friendship with Walsh intact.
“I’m leaving because I think it’s time to move on,” said Brown, who was quickly hired by the Philadelphia 76ers, making the NBA finals in 2001. He won an NBA championship with Detroit in 2004.
5.Rick Carlisle (181-147, .552)
How different is history for the Pacers and Carlisle if not for the Malice in the Palace?
They went 61-21 and made the Eastern Conference Finals with a young, talented roster in his first season. The top three scorers were Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest and Cheap Al Harrington Jersey; O’Neal was the oldest at 25.
But nine games into 2004-05, Artest went into the stands in Detroit, derailing that promising core. The team was also plagued by injuries and arrests. That Carlisle produced a 44-38 record that season in impressive. But the record got worse the next two seasons as Larry Bird re-shaped the roster.
The Pacers were 29-24 shortly after the All-Star break in 2006-07 but lost their next 11 games and Carlisle was out after the season. He was hired by Dallas and has developed a reputation as one of the NBA’s best coaches, winning an NBA title in 2011.
Carlisle was criticized for his communication skills and for coddling certain players, but it’s unlikely anyone could have weathered the storm that faced Carlisle after his first season.
“There were a lot of things that went on here in the last three years there were embarrassing,” Bird said in announcing Carlisle’s dismissal. “It hurts being from Indiana. I had a major problem with a lot of it and we can’t have that.”
Carlisle added: “When you know it’s time, you know it’s time.”
6. Nate McMillan (183-136, .574)
McMillan was a surprising choice as the replacement for Frank Vogel but proved his worth in four seasons, keeping the Pacers competitive despite the Cheap Paul George Jersey drama.
Indiana made the playoffs in all four seasons as McMillan helped Cheap Victor Oladipo Jersey and Cheap Domantas Sabonis Jersey —the widely-panned trade package received for George — develop into all-stars, and got defensive improvement out of players such as Bojan Bogdanovic and Cheap T.J. Warren Jersey.
But the Pacers didn’t get out of the first round and were swept three times, resulting in a 3-16 playoff record. McMillan was given a contract extension before the league’s restart in the Orlando bubble this season but was fired after getting swept by the Heat in the first round despite playing without Sabonis and with Oladipo at less than 100% following a serious knee injury the previous season.
“We gave it a good run. Over the last few years, not getting out of that first round, I take responsibility for that,” McMillan told IndyStar. “It’s under my watch regardless of the number of injuries we’ve had. I didn’t get it done. The organization wanted to move on. I understand that.
“Sometimes it’s just time for a change. I agreed with that, too.”
7. Bob Hill (113-108, .511)
The 1990-91 Pacers vs. Celtics first-round playoff matchup is one of the great overlooked series in NBA history. The Pacers would lose, 3-2, but it’s not hard to pinpoint it as the start of the franchise’s success in the years to come.
However, it took Larry Brown for the Pacers to take the next step up as Hill followed up a 32-25 partial season and that incredible playoff series by going 40-42 and 41-41 without getting out of the first round of the playoffs.
When the team couldn’t come close to selling out Market Square Arena for playoff games vs. the Knicks in 1993, Hill was fired.
Talent seemed to be the biggest issue. Hill opposed trading Cheap Chuck Person Jersey and Cheap Micheal Williams Jersey for Pooh Richardson and Cheap Sam Mitchell Jersey the previous season … and he was right. Richardson was a 16-plus point per game scorer in Minnesota but barely hit double digits in Indiana and Mitchell was a role player who had his worst seasons in Indianapolis. But Person waned quickly and Williams was done after two more good seasons so keeping the duo would have been unlikely to have helped Hill keep his job
He had two successful seasons in San Antonio but a 3-15 start in 1996 opened the door for Gregg Popovich.
8. Isiah Thomas (131-115, .533)
Thomas is a challenge to rank. He took over a team that made the NBA Finals and didn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs. Then, the first season without him, the team went to the Eastern Conference Finals. You could argue he belongs one spot higher or lower on this list, so we’ll slot him in here.
Thomas inherited a team in transition but certainly not without talent, losing Cheap Rik Smits Jersey to retirement but gaining future star Jermaine O’Neal. Cheap Dale Davis Jersey was dealt for O’Neal, but Al Harrington was ready for a bigger role. Cheap Jonathan Bender Jersey couldn’t overcome knee injuries but Cheap Jeff Foster Jersey would develop into a useful big man. Cheap Mark Jackson Jersey was let go but Cheap Travis Best Jersey was ready to step up. The team added Cheap Brad Miller Jersey, Ron Artest and Cheap Jamaal Tinsley Jersey.
In the end, the Pacers just didn’t develop under Thomas. They were 37-15 on Feb. 14, 2003, but would finish the season 11-19 and were eliminated in the playoffs by a lower-seeded Celtics team.
Larry Bird’s first major move as a Pacers executive was to fire his former rival two months before the season and hire Rick Carlisle.
“I just had a gut feeling it wasn’t going to work,” Bird said at the time.
9. Jack Ramsay (79-92, .462)
The legendary coach got mediocre results in an Indiana tenure highlighted by the team’s first NBA playoff win.
“When my brother, Melvin, and I bought the Pacers he was one of our first coaches and took us to our first NBA playoff series,” Pacers owner Herb Simon said in a news release following Ramsay’s death in 2014. “Jack was a good, humble man who gave us our first taste of success in the NBA. This is a loss for the sport of basketball, not just the Pacers.”
Ramsay and Donnie Walsh teamed to make one of the most influential decisions in the history of the franchise.
After the 1987 season, the Pacers targeted improving their backcourt; Walsh was in Hawaii the first time he saw lanky, 6-7 UCLA guard Cheap Reggie Miller Jersey. He called Ramsay, sent him film of Miller and asked his opinion.
“Draft him,” Ramsay said.
Miller would go on to a Hall of Fame career and lead the Pacers to their greatest run of success in the NBA in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Ramsay was 864-783 in his NBA career, and was named one of the league’s Top 10 all-time coaches in 1996. He won the NBA title in Portland in 1977