Last season: 56-26, 1st Central Division (1st Eastern Conference), Lost 4-2 to MIA in Eastern Conference Finals
Notable Acquisitions: G Rodney Stuckey (free agent, DET), G/F CJ Miles (free agent, CLE), F Damjan Rudez (free agent, CAI Zaragoza), F/C Shayne Whittington (undrafted rookie, Western Michigan)
Draft Picks: F Louis Labeyrie (France, 57th overall)
Notable Losses: G Lance Stephenson (CHA), G/F Evan Turner (BOS)
Burning Question: Can Paul George actually return to the court in 2014-15?
George’s progress so far has been nothing short of amazing. Just 11 short weeks after suffering a compound fracture, he is already practicing jumpers and playing one-on-one with his dog (literally).
The Pacers will undoubtedly be cautious with their franchise player but PG’s prognosis is looking brighter and brighter these days.
What. Just. Happened!? Without a doubt, the Indiana Pacers had the most difficult offseason in the entire NBA. Let’s tell the tale…One that all started with Lance Stephenson’s free agency.
From the very beginning, Lance looked like a goner, especially with the organization reportedly wearing thin on his crazy on-court behavior. Losing a player of his caliber was a huge blow since he does it all on the court.
And just when things did not look like they would get worse, the unthinkable occurred…superstar Paul George suffered a devastating leg fracture towards the end of Team USA’s Blue-White scrimmage in August. Just like that, George’s season was gone and the Pacers were searching for answers.
A string of bad fortune halted Indiana’s upcoming campaign before it could even begin. If George was healthy, they had a real chance at reaching another Conference Finals and winning the East.
Now, are they even a playoff team? It remains to be seen for Coach Frank Vogel’s veteran, defensive-minded group. Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill are the three core pieces who will anchor the lineup but who else is capable of stepping up and producing?
Newcomers C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey and rookie Damjan Rudez should help on offense but don’t exactly embody the defense identity the Pacers are known for.
Ian Mahinmi, CJ Watson, Chris Copeland, and Luis Scola are other key rotation players on the roster. They all have experience but, in a tougher conference, they don’t have the talent to make any noise in the playoffs.
GM Kevin Pritchard and Larry Bird could approach the season in one of two ways: play out the year and grind out victories in case PG can miraculously come back late in the year or use it as the perfect opportunity to shed dead weight and rebuild.
Either way, it will be a very trying season in the Hoosier state. Just a couple short years ago, they were one game away from reaching the Finals. Now, that possibility seems light years away.
Projected Starting 5:
Time to Shine:
For the Pacers to have any sort of success this year, Roy Hibbert and George Hill must step up their play. Often maligned for poor playoff performances and overall inconsistency, these two have the opportunity to show they can carry Indiana to the postseason.
Hibbert starred early last year with an improved post game and strong interior defense. But after the All-Star break he fizzled to the point where he was benched by Coach Vogel. Raising his averages to around 18 ppg and 10 rebounds is exactly what Indiana needs from him in 2015.
Hill, on the other hand, is always seen as Indiana’s weak link, even when they are winning games. His scoring dipped to just over 10 points a night and looked overmatched throughout the playoffs. Hill does have some game though. The Pacers will need more nights like the 37 points he put up against Damian Lillard and the Blazers last February:
F Solomon Hill: Solo Dolo playing sparingly as a rookie in 2013-14. He averaged just 1.7 points in only 8 minutes. With George out for the year, he will certainlly see an uptick in production across the board.
The do-it-all swingman from Arizona will be an interesting waiver wire player to watch all seaosn long.
Best Case: George makes a comeback in late March and pushes the Pacers to playoffs. Their tough defense and scrappy play leads to an upset in Round 1.
Worst Case: The Pacers are near the bottom of the conference, Hibbert and Hill are traded and they get prime positioning in the lottery. Ya know, this actually isn’t too bad!
3rd, Central Division (10th Eastern Conference), Will Miss Playoffs
“And boom goes the dynamite”- Brian Collins