Trans. Jun 27 6:39 ET (Jun 27 6:39 ET ) The Indiana Pacers season ended a little more than a month ago in something fairly close to disgrace. The Pacers went from legitimate title contenders to a middling squad that made the Eastern Conference Finals largely by default before falling to the far superior Miami Heat. Along the way, center Roy Hibbert turned into one of the most confoundingly inconsistent players in the NBA, Lance Stephenson became more wrestling heel than basketball player, and the roster as a whole seemed downright miserable even as they nearly matched the finish from their breakout 2013 playoff run. The front office could have been forgiven for declaring a need for meaningful changes.
After an NBA Draft in which the Pacers dumped their only pick (a late second-rounder), the East's runner-up two years in a row will now assess options and try to reformat the team into something like the functional unit that looked very impressive before the All-Star break. However, according to team president Larry Bird, their offseason moves won't involve breaking up the team's core. That suits the Pacers' top star just fine. From Conrad Brunner for ESPN 1070 The Fan :
“You can speculate all you want but I’m pretty set with our core group and we’re going to give ‘em another shot,” Bird said. “They almost got there two years in a row; I think they deserve another shot.”
That will come as music to George’s ears. Speaking earlier in the evening before the Carolyn Symmes charity softball game co-hosted by Roy Hibbert and the Colts’ Robert Mathis at Victory Field, George said he hoped the team remained intact.
“I like the core that we’ve got,” George said. “You don’t find that in the NBA where your starting five has been together for a couple of years. A lot of guys like to move around. In that aspect, I love it. We’ve got the pieces to win a championship. Someway, somehow, we’ve just got to find a way to put it all together.”
Bird goes on to say that he believes in keeping the same players together for many years as a general concept. On the face of it, his argument makes a great deal of sense. While the Pacers ended the season with several months of below-average play and an overriding malaise, the same team still managed to play excellent basketball in 2012-13 and until March 2014. It's not totally out of the question to suggest that they can get back to that level, especially if Stephenson returns at the right price and with a sense of purpose that doesn't involve blowing in ears.
Yet it's important to remember that moving the Pacers' core at all is easier said than done. George is set for a big extension and remains a legitimate star with the ability to win a playoff game by himself — there's no real sense in moving him. Hibbert is paid max-level money and doesn't seem like a bargain at that price — his trade value has never been lower. David West is effective at 33 years old and George Hill is coming off a poor postseason — neither player will bring back the haul the Pacers need to remake the lineup. Using the eternal dealmaking logic of "buy low, sell as high as other general managers let you," the Pacers have no reason to force a reloading process at this time.
It's tempting to speak of every team as controlling their destiny in regards to an individual desire to rebuild or not, but more often than not these decisions depend on the larger context of the NBA. Whether the Pacers want to break up their core is almost besides the point. The limiting factor here is the extent to which breaking up that group currently allows them to reach the resolution they need to keep the franchise in solid shape.
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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter!
With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Indiana Pacers.
The Miami Heat are good enough to win this year’s championship. They are good enough to beat the Indiana Pacers in six games during the Eastern Conference finals, and they are good enough to do so in one-sided fashion. They are the two-time defending champions, they earned this conference finals win, and the Indiana Pacers did not completely give them a conquest in this year’s third round.
They sure gave them Game 6 on Friday, though. The Pacers showed up woefully unprepared to compete; it was clear from the outset that the Pacers nearly to a man expected Miami to end Indiana’s season on Friday night, and the Pacers showed no interest in falling back on the sort of play that allowed them to race out to an impressive early regular season run during 2013-14, and attack the Heat where it hurt the most.
I am not a Pacers backer, nor do I enjoy falling back on these sorts of angry sportswriter’isms. Indiana, though, should be embarrassed with the way it composed itself both in Game 6 and throughout most of these playoffs. And if you think I’m referring to Lance Stephenson’s various attempts at annoying the defending champs, understand that his handiwork ranks far, far down the list of Where Indiana Went Terribly Wrong.
Looking back on Indiana’s failure (the technical outcome is not a failure, mind you, but the way they worked toward that Conference finals loss was) in the days following the Game 6 defeat in great length is pointless, as you already know the hallmarks. Indiana failed to defend to the sort of standards it had set both last season and earlier this season. Its interest in establishing both good passing angles and quick shots toward the hoop completely dissipated against a Heat defense that could have been taken advantage of. And too often the Pacers were more than happy to let the Heat define the terms of engagement, rather than playing with the same panache that made them Miami’s top combatants from 2012 through earlier this calendar year.
Anyone attempting to get into this team’s head beyond what we saw on the court is in for a fruitless exercise. Outside of perhaps David West, just about every prominent member of the Pacers rotation is to be blamed for abandoning the smart, energetic play that made the team so tough to score on for so long, while creating good enough opportunities on the other end along the way. Whether that is the fault of decaying personal relationships between teammates, an inability to get fired up from the words of coach Frank Vogel, or a result of being burned out by treating games in December like a Game 7 in early June – a month Indiana failed to get to after playing into it during 2013 – that’s anyone’s guess.
For now, what we have to figure out is how to fix the issues behind perhaps the most disappointing top overall seed since George Karl’s Seattle SuperSonics of the early 1990s. Recent Mavericks and Spurs teams may have gone out in the first round in 2007 and 2011, but like Seattle this Indiana crew is an entirely more flammable beast, one that could really make a mess of things should the same roster and coaching staff come to camp next fall.
Seattle stuck with Karl and the team’s top two young players in Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, but they traded angry locker room types like Ricky Pierce (for next to nothing) and Kendall Gill (for a better complementary player in shooter Hersey Hawkins) and were able to grow together until it won 64 games and made the 1996 Finals.
These Pacers? Nobody is lining up to take their Pierces and Gills. In fact, the team’s most tactless tempest in a teapot, one Lance Stephenson, will serve as the tipping point for their entire offseason.
Trades involving a frustrated Hibbert, or (Indiana prays) the lacking George Hill could eventually pop up as the summer creates more and more alternately desperate and giddy trade partners, but for now the entire offseason will key in on the extent in which Stephenson harmed his worth on the free agent market. For the bulk of Lance’s near-All-Star season, it was assumed that the Pacers were going to have to enter an uneasy bidding war for the unrestricted free agent, what with actual All-Stars staying with their incumbent teams, and frustrated clubs turning Stephenson into a potentially overpaid Plan B.
Our Dan Devine already expertly summed up Stephenson’s team’s reaction to his permanence and impermanence with the Pacers . Teammates had tired of his act, which seemed to grow and grow even as more and more attention was focused on it, throughout these playoffs. The team respects his game, but it's also sick of his stuff.
Due to the confines of the roster, though, the Pacers have little room for their own growth, and may have to talk themselves into hoping for the best with Lance. While he sorts out offers, his rather miniscule cap hold makes it so the Pacers can at least engage in trades when the free agency period starts without too much fear of rubbing up against the NBA’s luxury tax.
Should Stephenson stick, the Pacers may have to end up paying that tax next season for the first time in franchise history, an absolute killer for a team that plays in one of the league’s smaller markets, averaging middle of the road attendance (not turnout percentage, just raw numbers) along the way. Luis Scola disappointed greatly in his first season in Indiana, but the Pacers would have to pay him nearly $1 million to go away next year, and then attempt to sign his replacement (or his replacement’s replacement), which could blow up in their face should the potential pickings head to other teams for more money. George, Hibbert and West will all be working on eight-figure contracts, and the team won’t get any help from a first-round pick this season, as it’s already been traded to Phoenix in the deal for Scola.
(I remain steadfast in my defense of that deal, as presented at the time, which saw Indiana sending Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a first-round pick to Phoenix last summer for Scola. The first-round pick addition was a misstep, but Plumlee looked awful even in his short rookie stints last year, and his poor numbers reflected how uneasy he appeared. Green, meanwhile, had basically contributed just six weeks of good basketball in 2012 for New Jersey in the years leading up to the summer of 2013, and there was no reason to think he’d play as well as he did in Phoenix this year. And there was no reason to think Scola – who could pass, shoot, and spell David West – would fall off as he did. A terrible trade in the end, but reasonable – save for that draft pick in exchange for paying Green – at the time.)
Any other team in this predicament would rely on internal development. It would hope that Stephenson and George could grow and add to their games over the summer, Hill less slightly so, and that Hibbert could work his way out of his funk – as he did partway through a disappointing start to the 2012-13 campaign. Any other team would recognize that replacements with Vogel’s smarts and expertise aren’t usually spinning around on the coaching carousal, that David West’s game continues to age well, and that this remains a very young team in spite of its third straight loss to the Heat. After all, the Chicago Bulls ran up the same second- and then third-round losses against Detroit in the years before its title, even one loss with Phil Jackson in charge, and eventually they got it together.
These Pacers are different, though. This team is combustible, and this team has financial concerns, while potentially working its way toward paying four different players eight figures a year, four players in Georg
(Reuters) - Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel said on Monday his team remained on track in its pursuit of an NBA title despite a disappointing finish and a 25-point dismissal by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference clincher. "This group, as constructed, has room to grow." After a sterling start that produced a 33-7 record in the first half of the regular season, the Pacers struggled but managed to hang on to top-seeding in the East with a 56-26 record. They needed seven games to get past eighth-seeded Atlanta before losing to LeBron James and the Heat in the conference finals for the second season in a row. Vogel said he believed in the Pacers' ability to thrive with two big players dominating in the middle, center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West.
If Jeff Bower feels like a re-tread, it’s because that’s what he is. Oftentimes, when it comes to hiring a general manager to run the communications end of your basketball team, that’s exactly what you want. They know where all the good auto parts stores are, so to speak.
Of course, Detroit Pistons boss Stan Van Gundy is also a re-tread, coaching his third NBA team in less than a decade, but that didn’t stop him from being perhaps the hottest name on the market during this offseason’s coaching carousal. The former Heat and Magic coach was given absolute personnel carte blanche by Pistons owner Tom Gores recently, and while SVG may have final say in basketball matters, he still needs a general manager with experience to handle the day to day duties of keeping up with the league from up top.
This is why Van Gundy’s first hire will likely be Jeff Bower as general manager, as first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski . Bower is best known in NBA circles as the GM and eventual coach of the Hornets franchise, a stint that saw him pair great moves with so-so action, all while working under less than ideal conditions – namely having to re-locate to Oklahoma City for a season after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, all while dealing with a parsimonious yet meddling owner in George Shinn.
Bower created a winner in New Orleans behind Chris Paul and David West, two draft acquisitions. New Orleans even made the second round of the playoffs in 2009, rare air for a franchise (pick one, Charlotte, New Orleans, whomever) that has struggled to stay relevant of late, before age and injuries caught up with the team in the years that followed.
He did well to secure Paul and (especially) West after several teams passed over on those eventual All-Stars, but on the flip side of that Bower also went deep in on acquiring the rights to free agents who were already working past their primes. Peja Stojakovic and James Posey were signed to contribute spacing and guidance around the team’s young core, in moves that were (in the most extreme case with Posey) criticized at the time. Bower did well to secure Tyson Chandler from the skinflint Chicago Bulls franchise for an expiring contract and players (J.R. Smith, Howard Eisley) Chicago later dumped, but Chandler’s bad back and toes eventually forced New Orleans to send him to Charlotte for a solid-if-unspectacular Emeka Okafor.
By the time Paul missed 37 games in 2009-10, Bower was forced into coaching his team, which missed the playoffs. The Hornets returned to give the Los Angeles Lakers a competitive first round in 2011 with Monty Williams as coach, but Bower was let go after that season.
He and Van Gundy will inherit a nasty situation in Detroit, but one that isn’t without upside. It’s true that in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, the Pistons have two players who seemed to have tailed off years ago despite their age, working with borderline untradeable contracts (three years and $40.5 million left for Smith, two years and $16.3 million for Jennings). It does only takes one sucker to talk themselves into dealing for someone like Smith or Jennings over a summer, but those sorts of NBA GMs are becoming harder and harder to find.
The Pistons also wasted 2013-14 without a lottery pick as reward, thanks to a 2012 deal that was pitched to acquire cap space for 2013 (used on Smith and Jennings), and the team still has to figure out what to do with scoring forward Greg Monroe once the market sets its claws into his potential. Monroe has his faults as a defender and isn’t a great fit with some frontcourts, but plenty of teams will have cap space to throw at the restricted free agent this summer, and the Pistons may decline to get into a bidding war for his services. With a new front office in charge, it might be easier to make such dispassionate choices.
The bright side comes in the form of expiring contracts – Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey – and what could be over $20 million in cap room if the team decides to completely pass on making Monroe and Stuckey Pistons again. The team has Andre Drummond’s expected maximum contract extension to consider next summer, and with so many teams attempting to flail away in hopes of landing what they can pass off as a big fish when all the notable free agents stay home this summer, the Pistons could do well to do what former GM Joe Dumars did in his first few years running the show – take advantage of other teams’ financial frustrations in order to help others make deals, while accruing assets as a reward.
Dumars was a relative novice back then, and he had longtime NBA executive John Hammond’s rolodex to work with. Jeff Bower may have been out of the NBA for a few years, working as head basketball coach (with a bent toward analytics) at Marist, but his cell phone is still loaded with names. He’s still in touch.
That’s a brainy outfit, with Van Gundy and Bower running things. The only issue is, in a league that is getting smarter and smarter, will the duo be able to pounce at the right times and opportunities needed to turn these Pistons around?
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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
This has to be Paul George’s game. Has to.
Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals could be the final game of the Indiana Pacers’ season, just as was the case in Game 5 when the Pacers barely downed the Heat 93-90 to extend the series and the team’s season. Indiana needed each and every bit of the 24 minutes LeBron James spent sitting with foul trouble, and they needed every bit of Paul George’s 31 second-half points (37 overall) in order to down the defending champs. George’s second-half minutes ended up matching James’ total minutes for the game.
Now, the series shifts to Miami, LeBron can expect a whole batch of homespun make-up calls and George will once again be faced with the task of turning that “zero” that he starts each game with in the points colum all the way up to something in the 30s. Or mid-30s. Possibly 40-something, for just the second time all season, and first time in the playoffs.
That’s always been a problem for George, who entered the NBA as an all-around project and stands four seasons later as Indiana’s great final scoring hope. The Pacers have never been a great offensive team, and though the team’s defense improved considerably in Game 5, the Heat have more or less sussed out how to work around the gifts of Roy Hibbert, who famously boggled Miami during last season’s seven-game playoff duel in these same Eastern Conference finals. Hibbert may have stamped out the Heat’s best shot at a win on Wednesday by rotating expertly to a driving James in the game's waning seconds, but his presence hasn’t been nearly as significant as it was in last year’s conference finals.
With Hibbert more or less countered in this series, the onus falls on George to replicate or improve upon his Game 5 showing. Which, to any Pacers fan that has been closely following George’s ascension into a franchise player, has to be a frightening prospect.
This isn’t to take away from his gifts, his drive and his work in Game 5, but George is a flinger. His ball-handling and footwork isn’t on par with players like James or Dwyane Wade – frankly, whose is? – so he’s often left to hit tough, contested shots that seem unreliable at worst and shaky at best. George did fine work in Game 5 working both the passing lanes and individual defenders in loping toward his six steals and the subsequent transition forays. His half-court work? It doesn’t feel like something you can pack up and take to Miami.
George missed six of his first 3-point shots before nailing three of his last six in that second-half flourish. He did so without much enviable action from a Pacers offense that has looked downright embarrassing at times in this offseason, never so much as in Wednesday’s brutal first half against the Heat. Paul did extremely well in Game 6 to carry Indiana offensively when a James and Wade-led attack closed the Pacers advantage to a single-possession game, answering just about every Heat score with a bomb of his own from the outside. But outside of the corner placement on some of those jumpers, one has to think the Heat would take their chances with him tossing up those sorts of shots again.
The Heat’s preference is for George to barely touch the ball at all, what with George Hill working through an inconsistent postseason, Lance Stephenson mentally and physically taking himself out of games with his first-through-third quarter goofiness, and Hibbert needing a space designed to fit the entirety of a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in order to gather himself after catching a pass. The Pacers may have led the league in defensive efficiency this season, but they weren’t a steal-heavy club in doing so, and the Heat know that increased attention will take away some of those careless turnovers and eventual scores on the break for George.
The Heat are that good, and that smart, and this can be counted on. In response, George will have to continue to find his way in the half-court, and that’s been no sure thing for him throughout these playoffs. His per-minute and efficiency numbers are the same as they were in the regular season, impressive marks considering the quality of competition, but that doesn’t mean George has been strikingly consistent as he goes about his offensive business.
Hibbert was the key in 2013, David West could finally break free of the Heat’s quick feet offensively, and Lance Stephenson could actually betray basketball karma and back his way into doing something special for these Pacers, but this will be George’s game to take over. He has to be the one initiating quick decision-making off both the rebound and in the half court, he has to encourage movement from his teammates on the offensive end, and it’s his flick of the wrist that has to aim true as he works that burgeoning mid-range game and up-and-down 3-point shooting.
The Pacers like to think they got here as a team, but there has been infighting, furrowed brows and off-court intrigue throughout the tumultuous second half of the regular season and five-week playoff run. Still, throughout the storm and stress, this group truly does have more than enough to top a Heat team that in many ways is not as good as the one that it took to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2013.
Paul George shot 2 of 9 in that game, fouling six times and scoring only seven points. It was a contest that haunted both George and his teammates all season, inspiring them to a white hot 46-13 start to this season.
The Pacers worked all year for a shot at a Game 7 at home, and they’re one win away from that hypothetical turning into a reality. Paul George is going to have to be the guy that takes them home, though. There is no way around it.
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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops