This next group of teams, 25-21, are a tier above the rebuilding bottom feeders you’ve just worked your way through. In fact, the majority of them were fairly competitive squads last year and either made the playoffs or will be playing for April in 2015. When combined with the fact that they also feature a good deal of continuity and retained most of their key pieces during the offseason, one might think it could be fun to watch them try to build on their successes from last year and take the next step. And you would be dead wrong.
Let’s get into it. Check out some of the quotes from Pacers forward David West during NBA Media Day. Yeeesh. While you might might commend his honesty in saying that this team has kissed its window of title contention goodbye, you gotta shudder a little when he goes on to say “No one plays forever”. This is one of the toughest guys in basketball saying the situation in Indiana has gotten so bad so quickly that he is seriously considering hanging up his jersey and allowing Paul George to return to a shell of what he left last year.
West is not wrong. For all the jeering at Daryl Morey’s big strikeout in Houston, the Pacers and President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird had the worst offseason in the entire association. The fun started when the Pacers were unable to reach an agreement with their swingman Lance Stephenson, who ditched town for Charlotte in what was essentially the same amount of money but on a shorter deal. Stephenson leaving is huge as the Pacers will be without their 2nd best two-way player and one of their more dynamic scorers and playmakers.
And what happened to their best guy? Well Paul George suffered a horrible injury while scrimmaging on team USA over the summer, inciting a huge debate about whether our top players should be taking part in international competitions at all or possibly receiving some kind of financial incentive to do so. George has spoken hopefully about returning in time for the playoffs, but that means the Pacers will have to get there first. Without Stephenson or the guy who looked like the 3rd best player in the league at the beginning of last season, that might be difficult to do so.
Especially when you remember the Pacers finished off 2014 on a terrible, gut-punching slump. While they’ve always been a defense first, second, and third team, these guys absolutely could not score after the All-Star break and only somewhat got their shit together when it looked like the 8th seeded Hawks would steal the first round of the playoffs away from them. They had huge dropoffs in production from their PG George Hill and C Roy Hibbert, who somehow managed to go 12 minutes in the playoffs without scoring a single point or grabbing a single rebound (despite being 7’2″). Now they will attempt to contend with the new-look Cavs and revamped Bulls in a much stronger Central Division.
And the Pacers weren’t even that much fun to watch when they were winning. These are guys who slow the game down to a snail’s pace, force up a ton of bricks, and play first-to-80-wins basketball. They hope to have new signees, and long-time role players, CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey take the place of their two best wing scorers while praying that Hibbert and Hill have huge bounce-back seasons. Indiana is always going to have a tough defensive culture, and many people have predicted this will be enough to return to the postseason, but I just don’t see it.
X-Factor= Roy Hibbert
Hibbert is one of the largest and most physically dominating centers in the league. At his best, he is a master of the rule of verticality, which allows players to go straight up to contest shots without earning fouls for doing so. He has scared Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony out of the paint for numerous playoff series and is quite capable of winning the Defensive Player of the Year. Indiana is going to need this Hibbert back in order to compete.