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Thursday, October 30, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 22. Indiana Pacers

Overall Win/Loss Record:  56-26, first place Central Division

2014/2015 Projection: 38-44, fifth place Central Division, eleventh place Eastern Conference 

Preseason Rank

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 96.7 (24th)
  • Points Allowed: 92.3 (2nd)
  • Team FG%: .449 (17th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .420 (1st)
  • Team FT%: .779 (8th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .357 (17th)
  • Rebounds per game: 44.7 (8th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 41.2(5th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.5 (21st)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 13.2 (26th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): David West (14.0)
  • Rebounds per game:  Roy Hibbert (6.6)
  • Minutes per game: George Hill (32.0)
  • Assists per game:  George Hill (3.5)
  • Field Goal Percentage: David West (.488)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Solomon Hill (.857) 
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Chris Copeland (.418)
  • Steals per game: George Hill (1.0)                 
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Roy Hibbert (2.2)

Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performance and Potential Impact:

  • George Hill (PG)
  • CJ Miles (SG)
  • Chris Copeland (SF)
  • David West (PF)
  • Roy Hibbert (C)

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performance and Potential Impact::

  1. Luis Scola (F)
  2. Rodney Stuckey (G)
  3. Ian Mahinmi (C)
  4. CJ Watson (G)
  5. Solomon Hill (F)
Last season the Indiana Pacers earned the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference, but were thwarted once again in their desires for championship glory when they lost to the +Miami HEAT in the Conference Finals.  Now the Pacers find themselves on the outside looking in as their off season was marred by a horrific injury, poor personnel decisions and emergence of a team that was once the league's personal doormat.  While the majority of the teams in the East spent their off season upgrading and strengthening their rosters, Indiana simply stood pat and remains with the same old team, but without two major ingredients that were the source of their past successes.  It could be considered as the "snap that was heard around the world," when Paul George, the team's leading scorer and franchise player, slammed against the base of a basket in an effort to retrieve the ball and saw his leg shatter as if it were glass.  That injured essentially shattered Indy's season as a playoff contender; however, it is what happened during the off season that will determine not only the team's prospects this year, but in subsequent years following.

Thanks to the infinite wisdom of the team's President, Larry Bird, Indiana's future as championship contender or even a relevant competitor in its own division is in complete jeopardy.  To start off, instead of trying to develop it he mortgaged whatever young promising talent he had in +Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green and +Miles Plumlee, exchanging them away for older players whose basketball shelf life has all expired.  David West was already at his athletic peak as a player when he first joined the Pacers at the age of 30 four years ago, but Bird found it wise to keep him for three more years after his two year deal expired, instead of using that money to invest in a much younger player in Hansbrough, who showed that he had the potential to mimic, if not improve on what West was already doing.  Not only did he allow Hansbrough to leave, Bird also jettisoned Green and Plumlee to the +Phoenix Suns in exchange for Luis Scola, who at 34, is a player, who like West, has also seen his best basketball years past and at best can maintain his current production; however, in the case Green and Plumlee, it was the complete opposite as they both flourished in Phoenix and will most likely continue to have very long and prosperous careers.  Now thanks to Bird's shortsightedness, the Pacers are not only severely handicapped with the loss of George for the season, but they are stuck with aging players that can no longer perform or produce the same way they had done in previous years; however, that was not the worst move that Bird has done in his tenure.

That happened during the off season where instead of offering him the money that he clearly deserved, Larry decided to cheap out on restricted free agent +Lance Stephenson, who then took that as an insult and left for the +Charlotte Hornets.  Although Paul George was the team's loeading scorer and franchise player, Stephenson could be considered as a rising star and arguably the team's best overall player last season as he led the team in assists, had the team's best field goal percentage at .491, and led the league in triple doubles.  He was second to George in both rebounds and steals per game and at 24 years of age, the guy had more than enough upside to warrant and justify at least a near max contract extension; however, Bird chose to short change him offering Stephenson a four year 36$ million deal that would have decreased after each year.  That infuriated Stephenson so much that he decided to go to Charlotte for approximately for the same money that Bird offered, but instead four years guaranteed, he chose for two guaranteed and a player option for the third.  By doing so, not only did he essentially flip Larry "the Bird" in going to another team for about the same money, but also plans to rub Bird's shortsighted and moronic choice in his face for the next two years before he becomes an unrestricted free agent and really get paid.

Many fans applauded Bird's decision for letting Stephenson go as they cited one silly instance where during a play in the Eastern Conference Finals where he playfully blew in the face of +LeBron James to distract him. Like the pompous self righteous fools that they are, the fans and local media flew in perfect V formation  in support of their revered hero, choosing to diminish Lance's role and impact on the team by condescending put downs and childish insults.  Forget the fact that he was the team's best defender that never shied away from the challenge of guarding the one time "King of Miami" in the most important series of the Eastern Conference playoffs or the fact that he was not only the facilitator, but also at times the catalyst of Indiana's offense, which struggled at time to put points on the board.  To folks in Indiana, he has been disregarded an insignificant and replaceable piece whose performance was the product of the team, and not by his own effort and talent where in fact it was the complete opposite.  If it had not been for him pushing the ball, help it move among his teammates instead of simply having it planted it in George's hands, and attacking the rim to get to the free throw line, Indiana's offense last season would have been even more stagnant that it was last season--a horrifying vision to say the least.

Sadly it is the fault of Larry Bird that Indy's future now rest in the hands of a player that is not only out for the season, but will have even more pressure put on him to compensate for the lost offense and contributions on both ends of the court in which Stephenson provided upon his return.  Such immense pressure can result in another potential long term injury that can shelf him for another season the same way it did for the +Lakers+Kobe Bryant or the +Chicago Bulls' +Derrick Rose before him.  Some have pointed out that Bird's actions with Stephenson were more financial than anything else because giving him for than the 36$ million offered would have put the Pacers over the luxury tax threshold; however, that was an even stupider reason considering the fact that the league's salary cap is expected to balloon up to 80$ million making such a concern as the luxury tax literally null and void.  Even had George not been injured, Indiana's prospects for this season would have still been minimized due to the return of the Lebron James and the arrival of +Kevin Love to the +Cleveland Cavaliers have all but eliminated Indy's chance to maintain its hold on the top of its division, let alone conference.  Add the entrance of a greatly upgraded  Bulls team many look to be in a neck to neck with race Cleveland for not just the Central Division title, but the Eastern Conference's best record, the best that Indy can hope for is a third place finish in its own division.

Let's not forget that both fellow divisional rivals the +Milwaukee Bucks and +Detroit Pistons will be looking to also further pull the Pacers down off the once high pedestal they had made which allowed themselves to become lazy and complacent.  To add to Indiana's troubles are up and teams such as the +Toronto Raptors+Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets and +New York Knicks along with already established powerhouses in the Heat and +Brooklyn Nets all looking to stamp out whatever relevancy the Pacers still had.  Blame Bird once again for simply settling with the status-quot expecting the East not to change instead of taking the initiative to ensure that Indiana remains among the NBA's elite franchises for years to come; instead he chose to simply stand pat and allow the rest of the East catch up thus ending Indy's short four year rise as a elite team to a grinding halt.  The sad thing about this situation that he will not be held accountable for his bungling by either the ownership, the fans or the local media because of the heavenly aura surrounding him. Similar to the way Joe Dumars was treated in his tenure as the head man of the Pistons, Larry will be deemed as above reproach as he continues to make one mistake after another and cover his behind by pointing fingers and firing others to pay for his missteps.

After years of such a practice with the team continually floundering, eventually there will be no else to deflect blame unto and like Dumars before him, Larry will find himself having to resign in  shame and disgrace.  Pacer fans should right now consider this season awash because their team simply does not have the offensive firepower or the on court leadership to really be a major factor in the Eastern Conference, and they should also look to prepare for the worst as well.  Indy's status as an elite team has all but been ground to dust and all that both the team and its fans have is four playoff seasons, but little if anything else to show for it.  The team is saddled with a roster consisting of a sad mix of the overrated, over-paid, and over the hill combined with a pathetic group of spare parts that were found by scraping the bottom of the barrel.  The prospects are certainly bleak to say the least, but ask anyone in the Hoosier State and they will say that "everything is fine," and remain in that delusional state until the walls literally fall around them to acknowledge that something is wrong.