George Hill injury jeopardizes Pacers’ identity

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The puzzle pieces have changed, but the picture of the sailboat they form has not.

Under Frank Vogel, the Pacers have relied heavily on their starters. Between them, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert excel in all areas of the court, offensively and defensively, and really balance each other. But even when the pieces were slightly different – Danny Granger in place of Stephenson or Darren Collison in place of Hill – the positive results remained.

2013 playoffs (Hill, Stephenson, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +69 in 209 minutes
  • Other lineups: –45 in 319 minutes

2012-13 regular season (Hill, Stephenson, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +284 in 1,218 minutes
  • Other lineups: +42 in 2,700 minutes

2012 playoffs (Hill, Granger, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +86 in 240 minutes
  • Other lineups: –71 in 293 minutes

2011-12 regular season (Collison, Granger, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +189 in 1,000 minutes
  • Other lineups: +29 in 2,198 minutes

In some ways, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because, the more they play together, the better they play together. Even when the main lineup changed, Indiana showed a strong commitment to the new lineup.

In each of the last two seasons, the Pacers have had the league’s second-highest raw plus-minus. The No. 1 team has changed around them, and in both cases, Indiana held a huge lead over No. 3.

This achievement combines two factors, quality and quantity. For example, a unit that outscores opponents by 1 point per minute and played 10 minutes together (+10) would rank ahead of a unit that outscores opponents by 3 points per minute and played 3 minutes together (+9).

2012-13

  • Thunder (Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins): +288
  • Pacers: +284
  • Heat (Mario Chalmers-Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Udonis Haslem-Chris Bosh): +157

2011-12

  • Suns (Steve Nash-Jared Dudley-Grant Hill-Channing Frye-Marcin Gortat): +208
  • Pacers: +189
  • Heat (Mario Chalmers-Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Chris Bosh-Joel Anthony: +108

The Pacers’ top lineup led the NBA in raw plus-minus in the 2012 playoffs, and it again leads during the 2013 playoffs.

But the peril of the Pacers’ plan is showing with the injury to Hill, who’s still day-to-day. Every team would miss Hill’s defense and outside shooting, but the Pacers will especially miss how Hill interacted with Stephenson, George, West and Hibbert. More so than other teams, Indiana is shook by an injury to a single starter regardless of which it is.

So, D.J. Augustin stepping into the starting lineup will challenge a lot of what Indiana likes to do. When Augustin plays with the Pacers’ other four starters, they’re +5 in 25 minutes during the playoff, though 17 of those minutes came during Game 5 against the Knicks with Hill out (+2). But, using a larger and seemingly more reliable sample, Indiana was –17 in 93 minutes during the regular season with that unit. That was the Pacers’ most-used lineup that was outscored by opponents.

Maybe Vogel now wishes he had given more playing time to lineups besides his starting unit. But if he had, maybe the Pacers wouldn’t have come this far in the first place.

Lamar Odom opens up about cocaine addiction

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Lamar Odom has discussed his cocaine addiction before – how it derailed his NBA career, marriage to Kim Kardashian, his life. Never detailed like this, though.

Odom in The Players’ Tribune:

With cocaine especially, there’s a high, and then an emotional low. So it’s like a roller coaster. You go high, and then you go low. High, low, high, low. After you do it, you feel shame. You think about all the reasons why you shouldn’t have done it. Then the cycle starts again.

That’s the thing people don’t understand. Anybody who’s lived a complicated, drug-infused life like I’ve lived knows the cycle — with women, cheating on my wife, shit like that. Nights when I should have been asleep. Nights when I stayed up sniffing coke. Lot of those nights. When your heart is beating fast. When you should know better. When you’re just riding that roller coaster, man.

You think I wasn’t feeling shame? You think I was blind to what I was doing?

Nah, I wasn’t blind to it. Shame … pain. It’s part of the whole cycle. My brain was broken. As the years went on, and I got into my 30s, my career was winding down, and things just got out of control.

When I was like 32, 33 … I just wanted to get high all the time. That’s it, just get high. And things got dark as hell.

One of the darkest places I’ve ever been was when I was in a motel room, getting high with this chick, and my wife (at the time) walked in. That probably was like rock bottom.

I recommend reading all of Odom’s powerful essay, in which he explains the personal struggles that contributed to his drug use.

Report: Kyrie Irving not speaking with Cavaliers

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Former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin smoothed over Kyrie Irving‘s discontentment for years.

As new general manager Koby Altman tries to project stability, it seems there’s plenty of disarray behind the scenes in the wake of Irving’s trade request.

Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, via Chris Fillar of 92.3 The Fan:

Whatever are or aren’t the problems between Irving and LeBron James, this makes it far less likely they’ll reconcile. It already seemed LeBron wouldn’t be proactive in mending the relationship, and this saga has only generated more distrust.

Irving appears increasingly likely to get his wish, with Cleveland moving toward trading him. He’s just upping the odds by furthering the divide.

DeMar DeRozan: Talk of Raptors’ changes overblown

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri called for a “culture reset,” alluding to an offense less reliant on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan isolations.

DeMarre Carroll, traded from Toronto to the Nets, doubts the Raptors will change much.

Know who agrees with him? DeRozan.

DeRozan, via Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:

“I think the media kind of blow it out of proportion like it’s going to be something dramatic, like a complete dramatic 180-degree change,” DeRozan said, who was back in Toronto helping out with the Raptors’ Basketball Academy at Humber College on Monday. “It’s not that at all. It’s just moreso locking in and understanding what it takes to win from every single position. Everyone just know from our failures, guys stepping up and being better leaders, not just me and Kyle but everybody. I think once we lock in and everyone holds themselves accountable, everything else will come around perfect. That’s all it is.”

DeRozan didn’t disagree when it was suggested more ball movement might be demanded this season, but he did say the anticipated level of change by many outside the team is completely out of whack with the reality. The offence is still going to run through himself and Kyle Lowry.

This is shaping up to be a problem. Ujiri made this grand proclamation then brought back the same core – Lowry, DeRozan and coach Dwane Casey. This was the danger, that they were too comfortable with the status quo.

We’ll see how it actually plays out. DeRozan has a strong track record of improvement, and the Raptors might be forcing him to see the game differently by playing him at point guard.

But there at least appears to be a disconnect somewhere between the front office and players.

Rumor: Cavaliers trying to dump salary in Kyrie Irving trade

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The Cavaliers are reportedly prioritizing youth in a Kyrie Irving trade.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Another stated goal is to dump off some salary and reduce the luxury tax bill.

The Cavs – who reportedly lost more than $40 million last season – are on track to become the first team in NBA history to pay the luxury-tax repeater rate. They’ve led the league in payroll, racking up big luxury-tax bills, the last two seasons. They even pulled the rare feat of carving out max cap space (used on LeBron James) then getting about the luxury-tax line in the same season three years ago, finishing second to the Nets in spending that season.

Cleveland now faces a luxury-tax bill north of $78 million – which would eclipse its 2015-16 mark ($54 million) as the second highest tax payment ever, trailing just 2013-14 Brooklyn (nearly $91 million).

Most teams would never spend as much as the Cavaliers have the previous three seasons. Most teams would never approach Cleveland’s costs this year, which include $142 million in player salaries.

But most teams don’t have LeBron.

Remember, the Heat cutting corners on spending contributed to LeBron leaving Miami. And Cavs owner Dan Gilbert reportedly promised to spend unconditionally when LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014.

Is cutting costs the message the Cavaliers want to send as LeBron enters a contract year?

If so, they have a few candidates for shedding:

  • Tristan Thompson – three years, $52,408,695 remaining
  • J.R. Smith – three years, $44,160,000 remaining (just $3.87 million of $15.68 million guaranteed final year)
  • Iman Shumpert – two years, $21,348,313 remaining
  • Channing Frye – one year, $7,420,912 remaining

All those players, roughly in order of salary, contribute to winning.

The Cavs should have little trouble unloading those contracts in an Irving trade. He’s so valuable, teams will incur a lopsided financial deal to get him. They’ll just send Cleveland less talent to compensate.

It’s the classic dilemma – money vs. on-court success. Teams evaluate this tradeoff every day.

For the Cavaliers, there’s just the additional pressure of LeBron’s looming free agency.