Midway through the 2010-2011 NBA season Frank Vogel replaced Jim O’Brien as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers. In Vogel’s time with the Pacers he has led the team to the postseason every year while also upping their win total in each campaign. In the last three seasons the Pacers have been knocked out of the playoffs by the Miami Heat including the Eastern Conference Finals in the last two years. This past season the Pacers had the best record in the Eastern Conference, but it wasn’t enough for them to get by the Heat in the playoffs. The Pacers were hopeful that the upcoming season was going to be the time when they would be able to win their first NBA Championship. But Indiana is currently dealing with a bad case of Murphy’s Law.
Small forward Paul George is the Pacers franchise player as he has led the team in scoring in the past two seasons. But the Pacers will now be without George for the upcoming season after he fractured his leg during a Team USA scrimmage last Friday night in Las Vegas. George’s injury is just the latest stroke of bad luck for the Pacers.
Just prior to last season’s trade deadline in the NBA, Pacers president Larry Bird traded small forward Danny Grnager to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for swingman Evan Turner and power forward Lavoy Allen. Bird did this due to the fact that Granger had become injury prone and George had taken his spot as the Pacers starting small forward. After the season Turner became a free agent and he signed with the Boston Celtics. Shooting guard Lance Stephenson was also a free agent for the Pacers and he signed with the Charlotte Bobcats. For the upcoming NBA season the Pacers will now be without two of their top three scorers from last year’s team while they currently don’t have anyone on their roster that can provide what George did from the small forward position. George could score from the perimeter, attack the basket, defend, and rebound. George’s talent on the defensive end will be missed for the Pacers as he averaged 1.9 steals per game and this past season and he was also a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive First-Team. George’s defensive prowess is needed for the Pacers in order to for the team to hang with dynamic small forwards in the East such as LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks. The Pacers have won the Central Division in the last two years, but it will be tougher now that James is returning to the Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls are also hopeful that point guard Derrick Rose will be able to return to the form that made him the NBA’s MVP in 2011.
With George expected to be on the shelf this season the Pacers have now gone from being a top-tier team in the Eastern Conference to a team that will have to scrap in order to secure a postseason spot. The style of play that the Pacers have been accustomed to will change drastically as power forward David West and center Roy Hibbert will undoubtedly become the go-to-guys in Indiana in George’s absence..
For his 11-year NBA career, West is a two-time All-Star, but he will be 34-years of age at the end of this month. Hibbert is due to earn nearly $15 million in the upcoming season, but he has never been a dominant center. For his six-year NBA career Hibbert has averaged 11.2 points and 6.7 rebounds. At 7’2″, Hibbert has the size to dominate, but I am not sure if he is dialed in mentally to take over. Hibbert would also benefit from playing with a dominant point guard which is something that the Pacers currently do not have.
As an organization the Pacers were able to win three championships in the American Basketball Association, but that success has never been able to follow them into the NBA. Since joining the NBA in 1976, the Pacers have always been a bridesmaid, but never a bride. From 1990-2006, the Pacers made the postseason 16 times. The Pacers would make the Eastern Conference Finals four times in the 1990’s but they lost each time including three times in Game 7. The Pacers finally made the NBA Finals in 2000, but they had to witness a dynasty in the making as the Los Angeles Lakers knocked them off in six games. Heading into the 2004 Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Pacers had the best record in the East, but they were unable to get past the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals. The next year the Pacers were one of the favorites to win the NBA Championship, but the “Malace at the Palace” early in the season ended that.
Now Bird and the Pacers must once again put on their thinking caps. The Eastern Conference is still a bit weak so the Pacers will still be able to contend, but it will be much harder. Due to George’s injury the NBA is expected to give the Pacers the largest salary exemption as possible in order to cushion the blow of his loss for the season. Being that George’s injury happened now the Pacers have unfortunately missed out on the big wave in free agency this summer. Bird has always been creative in putting a team together which will really be put to the test now.