From the moment that they walked off of the American Airlines Arena court last season, their goal was not to have to travel for a game 7 again and they vowed to have the singular goal of hosting a game 7 in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a potential rematch with the 2 time defending NBA Champion Miami Heat. How ironic is it that their goal turned out to be nothing more than fools gold? The Pacers captured the number one overall seed in the Eastern Conference but was not allowed to host a game 7 in their “house” as the Miami Heat once again stood in the way of the Pacer’s path towards an NBA title. Afflicted by team turmoil (selfishness, arrogance, off the court issues), the Pacers went from one of the most promising teams in the NBA in recent memory to its most dysfunctional in what seemed as if a matter of mere seconds. Had it been a matter of a lack of talent, the Pacers would have been labeled as the underdogs, a franchise fortunate to make it to the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row but this was far different. There were no passes given as they faltered under the pressures being applied by the “big brothers” if you will.
The “Franchise” Paul George continued his ascension throughout the NBA’s regular season as he was named a starter on the All-Star for the first time. With averages of 21.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, George was clearly the standout player of the Pacers for the season. Finally being free from the shadow of previous franchise Danny Granger, George as the face of the franchise lifted it to places that haven’t been seen since the years that were home to Hall of Famer Reggie Miller tormenting the New York Knicks and being a pest to the likes of Michael Jordan and every other star in the league during his 18 year career. In an opt disappointing season, George, on the court, was the largest bright spot for the Pacers.
With that being said, the largest decision that the Pacers will have to make this off-season is whether or not they are going to re-sign Lance Stephenson who is set to become a restricted free agent July 1st. Just as George did years earlier, Stephenson had to learn and adapt to ascending while playing in the shadows of the “Franchise”. Antics aside, Stephenson is a talent despite still being “raw” in a multitude of areas. The Pacers will have the ability to match any potential contract that Stephenson receives elsewhere but depending on the impending value of said contract, Stephenson may very well be allowed to simply walk away.
Despite the addition of C.J. Watson to bolster the depth of the guard position, he and starter George Hill was simply underwhelming as the Pacers fell. If Stephenson is destined to be priority one in the off-season for the franchise, upgrading the point guard position is slated for the next position. Having true point guard will allow both Paul George to play freely as they won’t have the pressures of setting up the offense on their minds, they’ll be able to move freely without the ball and attack when necessary. With the “clutter” eradicated from their minds, they’ll continue to shine brighter than before.
A veteran guard that comes to mind is Andre Miller due to his incredible skill set and professionalism. Miller’s advanced age is obvious but due to his ability to facilitate the offense, protect the ball, and dominate in the post, Miller would be a great addition to bolster the guard play of the Indiana Pacers however the Washington Wizards have guaranteed his contract for the 2014-15 NBA season. Another intriguing name is Miami Heat free agent Mario Chalmers. Despite the disdain between the two franchises, Chalmers would fit perfectly in the Pacers system and would also be able to showcase more of his skill set to offset Paul George.
By default the Indiana Pacers will continue to be one of the top 3 teams in the Eastern Conference but if they fail to maximize their potential for another season, big changes are coming. At that point no one will be same included Frank Vogel and C Roy Hibbert. If last season was indeed championship or bust for the Pacers, the lessons of it were not learned, there were no consequences for the disappointment, the indifference as the ship was sinking under the watchful eye. The Pacers will enjoy another 50 plus win season but will face disappointment in the playoffs once more.