Proverbial bad breaks in life………can’t be avoided no matter how well one tries and the same thing can be said about sports. Sports, the first true reality entity to grip the minds of nations, to take its followers through the ebbs and flows of various emotions which includes the euphoria of the win and the agony of defeat. The bad breaks can not be avoided and it highlights the “win now” culture that we inhabit but the reality is that everyone can’t win now no matter how prepared they think they are, no matter how much the fan base feels entitled to it, no matter how far a team’s franchise player has ascended. Bad breaks in life, in sports…….happens.
Falls from grace can be monumental at times and also unexpected. This time last year the Indiana Pacers were the darlings of the NBA and the heir apparent in the league’s Eastern Conference, the cool choice to be the team to dethrone the then two time defending champion Miami Heat. Another deep playoff run and another loss to the Heat had the Pacers pondering if a rebuild would be necessary, should they attempt to keep then free agent Lance Stephenson or let him depart? In a league were the usual suspects are crowned champion year after year, the hardest thing to do is for a contender to break free from the chains of being a pretender.
If a team can possibly have the worst off season ever it was the Pacers. Already in a state of flux, the franchise lost its brightest star when Paul George suffered his horrific leg injury during an exhibition game for Team USA months ago. Despite the optimism from George that he may return at some point during the regular season, it’s best if he sits the season out.
The loss of George for the season stings but the vain of G/F Lance Stephenson was a venomous strike. Throughout last season it was evident that something was amiss in the Pacers’ locker-room as multiple reports detailed players calling one another selfish and a physical altercation between Stephenson and Evan Turner. Roy Hibbert was quoted as stating the following after an ugly loss near the end of last season:
“Some selfish dudes in here,” Hibbert said. “Some selfish dudes. I’m tired of talking about it. We’ve been talking about it for a month.”
“We play hard, but we’ve got to move the ball,” Hibbert said. “Is it obvious, or what? I don’t know whatever our assist ratio, or whatever it is, is in the league, but it probably isn’t up there. I’m really trying hard not to spaz out right now, but I don’t know. We’ve been talking about it for a month. I’m not handling the rock. I don’t know. I’ve made suggestions before and we do it for, like, one game, and then we revert back to what we are. I don’t know. I’m not the one to answer that question. It directly affects me and the bigs. We’re just out there and it makes us look bad.”
The Charlotte Hornets made a bold move by signing Stephenson to a 3 year deal valued at $27 million. A good offer for a player of his caliber but when one considers the Pacers offer of 5 years and $44 million the Hornets deal offered less security and slightly more money ($200,000 more per year). Simply put Stephenson left the Pacers because he wanted to shine, something that he could have done in Indiana but Paul George was in his way. Isn’t it ironic that Stephenson left just mere weeks before he would have been “the guy” in Indiana anyway?
Rodney Stuckey was the Pacers largest off season signing and he will have a chip on his shoulder this season due to flaming out as a member of the Detroit Pistons. Stuckey has a career average of 13.4 points and 3.9 assists per game. At only 28 years of age, Stuckey could prove to be an effective spark plug if utilized right by head coach Frank Vogel in tandem with George Hill.
With that having been said, Vogel’s seat grew hotter as the Pacers had a disastrous second half. Losing to the Miami Heat only magnified the situation and the displeasure was evident all over the face of Team President Larry Bird. Bird indicated during the off season that Vogel’s job was not in jeopardy but the writing was on the wall as Vogel was never Bird’s first choice to coach the team. Despite the fact that Vogel will be on the hot seat for the upcoming season, he will survive due to the injury to Paul George, it’s sort of a get out of jail free card if you will and it was that very card that allowed Vogel to agree to a multi year contract extension with the franchise.
Expect the Pacers to be a competitive team but their run as contenders is over for the time being. Roy Hibbert will have another All-Star season as he is the only consistent scoring threat that the Pacers have and veteran David West will continue to fortify the front court as long as he remains with the franchise. There have been rumblings that the Pacers may look to move West at the deadline just as they did with Danny Granger this past season. Despite maturity issues at times, the Pacers are a gritty bunch and will contender for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.