The Indiana Pacers aren’t a minority in the NBA, but there seems to be an impassable barrier that keeps holding them back from reaching the NBA finals. The question that needs to be asked – is it another team getting in their way, or are their other problems, internal, from the coaching of Frank Vogel, to the problematic Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson, or maybe the not quite superstar Paul George, or maybe even the decision making of Larry Bird, resulting in a bench that is completely ignored throughout the playoffs?
One of the first things on the table seems to be Vogel’s future with the team. He is staying. There were question marks when the Hawks were about the knockout the Pacers in the first round, but reaching two consecutive conference finals is hardly a reason to fire your head coach. It is if you think he can’t get you any further, and that there’s someone better waiting, available. Right now, sticking with Vogel is the right thing to do.
However, the Pacers need to change something. Vogel said that the Pacers are hitting a brick wall that happens to be LeBron James, comparing him and the Miami Heat to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1990’s. Whether or not that comparison is true or simply away of shrugging away culpability, it doesn’t feel like Indiana actually improved from last season, and getting home court advantage didn’t help at all when you’re inferior at basketball.
Before we dive into specific players, the Pacers, at least when facing the Miami Heat, have only one thing that works. It actually begins with offense, and that’s getting both Roy Hibbert and David West involved a lot, opening things up on the perimeter. That forces the Heat to play half court offense, and the Pacers defend that very well. Once the Miami Heat realized how to work around their problems in the paint, the only good thing the Pacers had to offer was Paul George going insane from beyond the arc. That’s not how you win a title.
But the Pacers have this sort of one-way, limited offense because of players limitations. There aren’t any good passers on the team with exceptional vision. Paul George is a star, but is he the kind of guy who leads a team to a title? Highly doubtful, especially not when there is so much going on in his personal life. From paternity suits to sleeping with teammate’s girlfriends and sending nude pictures to unknown people on the Internet. It might be all false, but it has to be getting to him in one way or another.
The bench has been a disaster. Aside from some games that we OK by Luis Scola and a good game 1 against the Heat from C.J. Watson, the Pacers got nothing. Evan Turner averaged 17.4 points for the Sixers before getting traded, but spent only 12.4 minutes on the floor in the playoffs, averaging 3.3 points per game. The Pacers gave up Danny Granger for that?! The bottom line is always what matters, and Larry Bird lost a leader for pretty much nothing in return.
This isn’t about assigning blame, but thinking about what can be done. When a key player like Roy Hibbert fails to show up on half the games, that’s a problem. When Lance Stephenson ignores what his team president and general manager tell him, that’s a problem. When George Hill sometimes seems like a guy who has never played an NBA game, broadcasting his lack of confidence for the world to see, that’s a big problem.
Lance Stephenson is a free agent, and is the biggest decision for the Pacers. Depending on what they do with Luis Scola and his $4.8 million nonguaranteed year, they’ll have between $8 and $12 million in cap space before hitting the luxury tax. Rumors suggest Lance Stephenson wants around $10 million a season on his next deal. He’s developing nicely, but there are problems in his game and personality. Can the Pacers get someone who can contribute like him for less money? Can they trade him? That is their biggest issue in this offseason.
Improving player development and doing more when it comes to play design is a must. Maybe finding a new assistant to help Vogel when it comes to offense. It can’t be all team chemistry that dragged this team down after the All-Star break. The East, unless something unique happens, is still easy picking until a certain stage. But the Pacers can’t be just about waiting for the Heat to collapse. They seemed to be different this season before the truth hit them in the face. Changing realities is hard, but it’s something that has to be done, or they’ll start regressing as too many painful experiences don’t always bring teams closer to their goal.