After failing to make the NBA Playoffs last year, the Indiana Pacers rebounded this season for their fifth postseason appearance in the last six years. The Pacers had a healthy Paul George in their front court this year which greatly changed the dynamic of this team. For the third time in the last four years, George led the Pacers in scoring, but he did it in a new role. We all know that George is the leader of the Pacers, but he was able to make a flawless adjustment as team president Larry Bird has decided to play more “small ball”. At 6’9″, George has the height to play power forward in the NBA, but his weight of just 220 lbs., makes him rather slender for the position. However in Bird’s system, George primarily played power forward this season instead of his typical small forward position for Indiana, and he held his own by averaging 23.1 points and 7 rebounds as he made his third NBA All-Star Game appearance. Led by George, the Pacers would finish seventh in the Eastern Conference, and they gave the Toronto Raptors all that they could handle in their first-round playoff series before bowing out in seven games. George is a bona fide star that has already helped the Pacers make the Eastern Conference Finals twice. George is only 26-years of age, and as Bird doesn’t want to waste the prime years of his NBA career by just making the playoffs, this summer will be critical as far as putting a championship caliber team around him.
Since the Pacers season ended this past Sunday night, Bird has not been fully committed to retaining head coach Frank Vogel. Vogel replaced Jim O’Brien as Pacers head coach midway through the 2010-2011 NBA season, and he has guided Indiana to the postseason in all but one year. However, Bird views the Pacers offense as stagnant being that they have never finished higher than 13th in the NBA in points per game under Vogel. Under Vogel, the Pacers have been one of the better defensive teams in the NBA which includes them being eighth in the fewest points allowed per game this season. But if Bird does ultimately decide on not retaining Vogel, you will definitely hear the name of Mark Jackson mentioned as far as succeeding him.
Jackson played 17 seasons in the NBA, with six of those years coming in a Pacers uniform which was highlighted by him helping the team reach the NBA Finals in 2000. Most recently Jackson compiled a record of 121-109 in three seasons as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, and he has been credited with laying the ground work as to what the team has become. And if Bird wants to continue revamping the Pacers philosophy which could result in bringing in a new head coach, he is going to have to look long and hard at his roster as well.
After George averaged 23.1 points per game this past season, the next closest Pacers player in points per game average was shooting guard Monta Ellis at 13.8 points per contest. Ellis and the Pacers came to an agreement on a four-year, $44 million deal last summer, but after 11 years in the NBA, he is no longer a player that can consistently put up big numbers. Point guard George Hill has been with the Pacers for the past five seasons. With Indiana, Hill has averaged 12.3 points and 3.9 assists, and although that he is serviceable, he is not a quality floor general which is something that the Pacers need. Last summer, the Pacers did draft power forward Myles Turner who as a rookie averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds as he showed signs of being the athletic big man that Bird wants to play in his system. But for the Pacers to get back to that level of being among the elite teams in the NBA, they are going to need another quality perimeter player to compliment George.
Next month’s NBA Draft will be loaded with wing players that will fit into this system which means that Bird should be able to come away with at least one player that could make an immediate impact. A potential free agent, who isn’t a superstar, but does fit what the Pacers are attempting to do is current Boston Celtics swignman Evan Turner as he is a perimeter player that can defend as well as handle the basketball. However the Pacers had Turner in 2014 and they underutilized him which led him to signing with Celtics. But would Bird now have a change of heart and attempt to lure Turner away from the Celtics and his former teammate in general manager Danny Ainge?
It will be very interesting to see the moves that Bird will make over the summer as we are basically assured that this will be a different Pacers team that takes the court in October for to start the 2016-2017 NBA season as he knows how to put a quality team together.