Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game Six

Young Pacers on verge of history


Larry Bird was the reigning MVP. David Robinson hadn’t yet been drafted. Julius Erving was still an active player.

That’s how long it’s been since a team as young as the 2012-13 Indiana Pacers made the NBA Finals.

Thanks to their 91-77 win over the Miami Heat tonight, the Pacers are only one win from becoming the youngest NBA finalist since the 1985-86 Houston Rockets. The 2010-11 Oklahoma City Thunder are the only younger team between to make even the conference finals.

With a starting lineup that now features Lance Stephenson (22), Paul George (23), Roy Hibbert (26) and George Hill (27), the Pacers have rapidly and steadily ascended up the NBA ladder. They lost 50 games in 2009-10, reached the first round in 2010-11, the second round in 2011-12 and the conference finals – and maybe further – this season.

David West (32) is the old hand of the group, but because he played four years at Xavier, he’s played only as many seasons as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

West was signed as a free agent, and the Pacers traded a draft pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard. Otherwise, Indiana’s top players have been drafted by the team or acquired via draft-day trades and then developed in-house.

Most remarkably, these players – and Danny Granger, who was a key piece of Indiana’s resurgence before injury – were drafted relatively low.

The Thunder have become recognized as the model for drafting and developing players, but the Pacers deserve a place in the discussion – maybe even ahead of Oklahoma City when it comes to the developing side. Just look where each team’s recent key players were drafted:

  • Pacers: George (No. 10), Hibbert (No. 17), Granger (No. 17) and Stephenson (No. 40)
  • Thunder: Kevin Durant (No. 2), James Harden (No. 3), Russell Westbrook (No. 4) and Serge Ibaka (No. 24)

Developing talent is much easier when you start with a lot more talent.

But despite working with less-herald draft picks, the Pacers have groomed their players to reach levels Oklahoma City’s young stars never have.

George is averaging 21.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game against the Heat. Since 1985 (as far back as’s relevant records go), only LeBron James (twice) and Kobe Bryant (twice) have posted those totals in a Conference Finals or Finals at such a young age.

Hibbert, who’s averaging 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in this series, is matched during that span in age, scoring and rebounding in the Conference Finals or Finals by just Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan (twice) and Shaquille O’Neal.

For both George and Hibbert to be producing at these levels is astounding, but it speaks to how well and how quickly Indiana has developed.

Win or lose Monday, the Pacers have a bright future. But if they win, their present will be historically special.

Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor

The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.

Stan Van Gundy calls out Andre Drummond’s effort after loss to Thunder

Andre Drummond
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After a promising start to the season, the Pistons have lost three of their last four games and seven of their last 10. And although he’s been outstanding for most of the season, Andre Drummond has not been above receiving criticism from Stan Van Gundy. The coach called out Drummond’s effort on Friday night after a loss to the Thunder.

Via Sportando:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight,” Van Gundy said of the two beatings the Pistons received this week. “Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

Calling out your best player in the media is bold, but Van Gundy has enough of a track record and a reputation, going back to his days in Orlando with Dwight Howard, that he can get away with it. It also sends a message to the entire team that Van Gundy isn’t going to hold his star to a different standard than the rest of the team.

Despite a couple of poor performances, Drummond is having a career year, leading the league in rebounding at 17.1 per game while also averaging 17.9 points.