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Monday, February 2, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 23. Indiana Pacers

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  11-21, fourth place Central Division, 11th Place Eastern Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 94.5 (28th)
  • Points Allowed: 96.3 (2nd)
  • Team FG%: .431 (25th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .443 (8th)
  • Team FT%: .729 (25th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .335 (24th)
  • Rebounds per game: 45.3  (5th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.8 (15th)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.6 (11th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.0 (27th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): David West (12.5)
  • Rebounds per game:  Lavoy Allen (7.5)
  • Minutes per game: Solomon Hill (32.0)
  • Assists per game:  Donald Sloan (4.5)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Ian Mahinimi (.611)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  CJ Watson (.830)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: CJ Watson (.383)
  • Steals per game: CJ Watson (1.0)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Roy Hibbert (2.0)
Worst of the Class: +Larry Bird 
If you want to know who to blame for the current sad state of the Indiana Pacers, one needs not to look any further than the team's head of operations, Larry Bird.  Not only did not he not bring back a key member of last season's team that not only finished first place in the Eastern Conference, but also helped lead the team against the +Miami HEAT in the conference finals. Bird thought that signing cheaper knock offs instead of paying Lance Stephenson, who is now with the +Charlotte Hornets, what he deserved was a better alternative; however, he has paid for his arrogance and that was not his only misstep.  Larry Bird did not hurt the team with his actions, but mostly with his in-actions as he essentially kept an aging team that had virtually no competition last year while his division rivals upgraded their rosters significantly resulting in his team's disgrace.  Even if Paul George had not broken his leg in the summer and was able to play, the Pacer probably would be in the same predicament because he simply would not have the support as he did with Stephenson and he too would have questioned the wisdom of signing that lucrative deal to stay in Indy. 

First of the Class: Frank Vogel
Give Vogel credit where it is due as he has essentially kept a team that has been held together my glue and matchsticks and has got them playing rather decently despite just winning a third of its games.  With the departure of Lance Stephenson in free agency along with the tragic loss of the team's star player, Paul George, for the entire season, Vogel was left with a roster of nobodies, over the hill has-beens, broken down veterans and discarded trash; however, he still managed to keep this team focused enough to remain one of the league's top defensive teams.  Sure, he has no one capable of putting up big scoring numbers such as George, while at the same time started the season with three of his key returning players on the injured list; Yet, he has certainly managed managed to turn the lemons he started out with into lemonade.  Even through the adversity he has kept his team playing hard and fighting for every game  whether it wins or loses, but even the most optimistic of Pacers fans realize that sooner or later this ragtag group of misfits will soon fall apart and not even all the grittiness in the world can prevent Indy to fall out of the playoff chase.  Nonetheless, in spite of their dire situation, it has never stopped Vogel from demanding the best out of his players nor has it allowed his players to simply throw their hands up and quit.   

No one expected for the Pacers to finish first place in their division for the third straight year due to the missteps of their front office during the off season and the tragic accident of their star player; however, no one expected them to fall near rock bottom as they have so far.  Indy started the regular season stumbling out the gates and crashed into a wall as they lost six of its first seven games before bouncing back and finished November winning six of their next games.  Unfortunately, they would fall on hard times once again in December as they lost eight straight to start the month, but finished 2014 in style winning five of their last nine games and despite their rather uncharacteristic slow start, they have still shown signs that they can still pull the season out and possibly make a run for the post season.  Unlike the oppressive state of affairs that is currently occurring in the Western Conference where seven of their eight playoff spots have already been spoken for, the East remains considerably open with just the top three seeds secure thus far. With fifty games left in the regular season, there is still plenty of time to turn their season around; however, perhaps this is not the most prudent course of action as the best that Indiana can possibly do is claim the East final playoff spot and possibly get ousted in the first round as quickly as they entered it.

Would it not be much better to simply chalk the season up for a loss in order to vie for a very high draft pick instead of pushing for a playoff spot that may or may not be there at the end of the regular season?  Although there is still an outside chance of making the playoffs, there are no guarantee that the Pacers will be able to do it; plus, if they choose to fight to the very end and not make the post season, they best they can look forward to is a low first round pick.  Indiana right now has the perfect opportunity to attain the first overall pick in the draft as it currently rest near the bottom of the league along with the +Philadelphia 76ers+New York Knicks+Los Angeles Lakers and the +Detroit Pistons; plus, with their aging roster that is in severe decline, the Pacers will have no choice but to start the rebuild as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, that does not look like that is going to happen as the players, coaching staff, the team's front office as well as the fans have far too much pride to simply throw in the towel and that stubbornness will lead to their ultimate downfall.  As a result, the Pacers will find themselves continuing to slip out of relevance and respectability as their team has become outdated and over the hill while both their divisional and conference rivals have already began to separate themselves even further turning Indy from a once proud winning franchise to a laughing stock in the span of just one season.

Both the +Chicago Bulls and the +Cleveland Cavaliers have made significant strides to not only surpass Indiana, but to ensure that even with the return of their star player Paul George next season, will not even have a chance to ever return to the top of the Central Division. Despite of the team's rather slow start, the return of +LeBron James to his home state plus the addition of +Kevin Love have not only turned the Cavs into championship contenders, but has also assured that they remain at the top of both the Central Division and the Eastern Conference for years to come.  The Bulls have also made themselves a significant obstacle to Indiana's plans thanks not only the return of MVP +Derrick Rose, but also the addition of a revitalized +Pau Gasol and the unforeseen emergence of role player turned superstar in Jimmy Butler.  Even the often ignored +Milwaukee Bucks have risen out of obscurity to upstage the Pacers thanks to the arrival of their new head coach +Jason Kidd who turned a team that had won just seventeen games before into one of the league's up and coming teams.  Now Indy finds itself not only shamefully knocked off their pedestal, but also wallowing near rock bottom with only the Pistons underneath to keep them from actually touching the cold hard floor.

Blame the actions of the team's president of operations Larry Bird for the sad state of of affairs due to his shortsightedness, poor draft picks, and complete lack of initiative when it came to assuring that his team stayed at the top.  Instead of looking for ways to improve the team, he simply settled with leaving well enough alone as he chose to leave the future of the team in the hands of aging and declining players such as David West and +Luis Scola, instead of looking to infuse the team with young talent.  The decision to attempt to shortchange Lance Stephenson instead of making every attempt to secure him long term was another sign of Bird inability to follow the times losing the talented, although mercurial Stephenson to the +Charlotte Hornets and filling the immense void he left behind with cheap knock offs in C.J Miles and +Rodney Stuckey.  Neither Miles or Stuckey have been able to fill in and replace the massive impact and impression that Stephenson left on the Pacers--not just in terms of his production and output, but all in terms of his energy and savvy that he also brought onto the court.  Many in Indiana applauded Bird for not ponying up the dough to keep Stephenson claiming that he was neither mature or professional enough to represent their team; however, Stephenson's absence has certainly been quite apparent when looking at the rather pathetic state of the team's offensive execution.

Instead of having Stephenson's ability to not only score, but also to manage the team's offense and help push the tempo with his speed and athleticism, the team had to rely on a committee of point guards consisting of perennial scrubs CJ Watson and Donald Sloan.  The team's incumbent starting point guard, George Hill, has been a complete no show sitting out much of the season due to injuries; however, in his time in Indiana he has not shown an ability of being even a somewhat decent play maker nor the ability to get anyone but himself involved in the team's offense. Sure, Stephenson has yet to light in up in Charlotte the same way he did in Indiana which give the thickheaded Pacer fan base to think that they are better off without him; however, considering that he would have been better acclimated to the Pacers' way of doing things instead of forcing to readjust to a new system in Charlotte, he probably would have performed far better had he stayed. Not only that, but he also could have been Indy's primary scoring option giving the team a focal point to rally to instead of the hodgepodge mess that fans are forced to witness as none of their team's players have neither the ability nor the skills to force opposing defenses to concentrate upon.
Even if Paul George had not suffered that gruesome injury in the summer forcing him to sit out the entire season, it is doubtful that the Pacers' fortunes as Stephenson's departure would have made it even more difficult for him because there is virtually no one else to help shoulder the offensive load the way that Stephenson did.

Both David West and Luis Scola have shown that they are no longer capable to put up the big numbers that they used to as both their abilities and their sustainability on their court have severely declined, while +Roy Hibbert continues to gain the ire of his fans will his declining production despite his supposedly exceptional gifts that should make him a superstar.  George would have probably have had to carry the team himself with little or no help whatsoever possibly leading him to succumb to the physical strain and lead him to be injured for the season thus leaving Indiana in the same predicament that it currently faces.  In spite of his warts, Stephenson, in essence, complemented George in every way by not only taking a load off his shoulder with scoring, but also did so without taking too much of the spotlight--the same way how +Scottie Pippen provided the same support for +Michael Jordan by not only with his hall of fame presence, but also staying in the background enough to allow Jordan to shine in those Bulls championship years during the 1990s.  Such a player that provides the best of both worlds is almost impossible to find in today's NBA, but Bird had such a player in Stephenson, but foolishly chose to diminish his role by offering a less than desirable offer to someone of his talents forcing him to leave in anger to another team for the same money.

Now after all that effort and energy to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference Mountain. the Pacers find themselves slipping and falling of a high cliff and once they crash to the bottom, they may not be able to pick themselves back up again; however, it almost seemed as if it was almost inevitable that this would happen.  Despite its winning record, the Pacers never proved that they had what it took to be a true championship contender because their management never took the initiative to show that it was willing to do what it took to win an NBA title at any cost.  Instead, it seemed as it was happy remaining at the status quot taking the opponents in their conference for granted not thinking for one second that the good times will ever stop; but now they have, and the Pacers are left with the unsavory prospect of having to start over from scratch once again.  If that   happens, there needs to be a complete house cleaning from top top down starting with Larry Bird stepping down as head of basketball operations because it has painfully obvious that not only is he behind the times, but simply out of touch with today's NBA.   Unless he decides to do the right thing and walk away, then Indiana will continue its decent into obscurity as their star Paul George wastes his prime years on a team going nowhere fast.