Pacers learn painful lessons on path to much bigger wins

28 Comments

That the Pacers were in a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals with a young team — one that had to adapt on the fly to losing their leading scorer from last year Danny Granger just days before the season started — is more than just a bright sign for the future.

Monday night sucked for Pacers fans, but they have to know the next few years will not. This is a good team.

Through adversity teams grow — and Indiana has grown into one of the NBA’s best teams. Next season their core will be back , their defense will improve with familiarity and they will grow from this experience.

“We’ve gone through a lot, with Danny being out from the beginning of the season,” Roy Hibbert said in his televised post game interview. “David (West), Paul (George) and George (Hill) really stepped up and we won a lot of games. They matured, we finished strong toward the end of the season and we had one heck of a run.

“It’s unfortunate we lost, but I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

Teams need to learn to win in the NBA (even Michael Jordan had to get his head handed to him three straight years by the Pistons before he and his teammates learned what it took to win it all). Monday night was one of those lessons, about reaching another level when it is all on the line. These lessons are a punch to the gut, but the best teams grow from them. Miami didn’t fully adopt the small-ball style that got them a title last year and back to the finals this year until Chris Bosh went down against the Pacers in the playoffs last year. Then they did it out of necessity.

Injuries can help a team define who they really need to be. That seemed to happen to the Pacers this season.

The loss of Granger meant Paul George got thrust into a bigger role as the ball handler and primary scorer — and he thrived, putting together his best season as a pro and becoming the league’s Most Improved Player. Then the playoffs became his national coming out party — a guy who played his college ball in little-watched Fresno and his professional ball in small market Indiana burst on the national scene. LeBron James was praising him. He looked like a future MVP.

George Hill took another step forward as the versatile if untraditional point guard. Roy Hibbert struggled early in the season — a combination of a wrist injury and self-imposed pressure after getting a max contract — but by the end of the season and certainly through the playoffs he looked like a center deserving a max deal.

David West is a pro’s pro that gives this team steady professionalism, not to mention steady points and rebounds. He’s a free agent but said after the game he can’t imagine himself anywhere else, and the Pacers plan to bring him back.

There are certainly questions for the Pacers this summer.

West is a free agent and while both sides are saying all the right things a deal still needs to be worked out (and other teams will try to poach him). George is eligible for an extension for his rookie deal and you can expect a four-year max (which would not kick in until the season after next).

But if the Pacers are paying Hibbert and George and West, can they continue to pay Danny Granger and stay under the tax line?

Also, the Pacers need to find depth — in the playoffs their starting five (Hill, George, Lance Stephenson, West, Hibbert) played 415 minutes and were an average of +14.6 per 48 minutes. But their bench lineups were a disaster and so none played more than 35 minutes all postseason. This is really two years in a row the lack of depth has been an issue in Indiana — they need to find some quality depth. Guys coach Frank Vogel can put out on the court and not instantly feel like he needs a single-malt scotch to calm his nerves.

But the core of a contender is there, and that is the hard part to put together. And it’s a young core, one that will just get better and better the more they play together.

Which should make Pacers fans very happy. And the rest of the East very nervous.

Gordon Hayward is shooting standing threes in an empty gym. That’s something, I guess.

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Having lost three games in a row at home, doubt seems to have crept into the minds of some Celtics fans. They’re the top seed in the East (and likely finish the season in that slot, again), but just how good are they really? Do they have enough to knock off the Cavaliers and LeBron James when he goes into playoff mode?

In the midst of that self-doubt, the wife of Gordon Hayward, Robyn, posted this.

Still can’t beat me… 🤷🏻‍♀️

A post shared by Robyn Hayward (@robynmhayward) on

For Boston fans still holding out hope Hayward returns this season, this is another sign. No brace, no chair, he’s draining threes. It’s a step forward.

This video also borders on meaningless — he’s not jumping, not moving, not showing us anything about his recovery we didn’t already know. Good to see him up and making progress, but that he can hit stand-still threes in an empty gym is about as shocking as finding out the next Transformers movie is going to suck.

Officially, Hayward is still out for the season. He’s putting in the work, and maybe he returns before the playoffs, but the Celtics are not going to rush him back for this season. Nor should they. The Celtics are on a multi-year plan to be the next dominant team in the East, no reason to push him and risk anything now.

Report: Giannis Antetokounmpo “devastated” by Jason Kidd firing

Getty Images
4 Comments

The Bucks have been a team of unfulfilled potential for a few seasons now, two steps up and one step back. Last season they were 42-40 and bounced in the first round of the playoffs, this season they are 23-22 and the eighth seed in the East, with the point differential of a team that should be 20-25 and on its way to a 36-win season.

That cost Jason Kidd his job.

That has not sat well with the team’s superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

You can’t blame Antetokounmpo, Kidd has been his coach the past three-and-a-half seasons and guided the Greek Freak’s rise to superstardom. Kidd also was the one who put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands and made him both the defacto point guard on the team and one of the league’s most dangerous players. Kidd did some very good things with these Bucks, and Antetokounmpo is understandably loyal to the man.

However, Antetokounmpo is under contract at a near-max salary until the summer of 2021, so he has no real leverage here.

Elite coaches will be lined up for a chance to coach Antetokounmpo and a very talented Bucks roster, but whoever gets the job next summer has to connect with the superstar first. Kidd had done that.

Report: Clippers haven’t received any tempting offers for DeAndre Jordan

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A couple months ago, the Clippers had lost nine straight to fall out of the playoff picture. Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic were injured. Extension talks with DeAndre Jordan stalled.

So, teams were inquiring about trading for Jordan.

Apparently, none have made serious inroads.

Marc Stein of The York Times:

The league is oversaturated with centers. Almost everyone who used to be a power forward/center is now exclusively a center, and many former power forwards are now centers. Heck, some players who would have previously been viewed as small forwards now play center regularly.

Jordan is a good player, but not one teams are eager to break the bank for. Not in this era.

I also suspect the Clippers’ asking price has risen as they have turned around their season. They’re 23-22 and eighth in the Western Conference. It’s no longer quite as logical to get whatever possible for Jordan before he becomes a free agent. There’s value in keeping him for the rest of the season, winning as much as possible then figuring out Jordan’s player option/potential free agency next summer. Even just a playoff appearance could be satisfying in this post-Chris Paul era, and Jordan is essential to that pursuit.

Milwaukee fires Jason Kidd as coach

Getty Images
12 Comments

On paper, the Bucks look dangerous — they have a top-10 (maybe top-five) player in Giannis Antetokounmpo, good role players, a lot of length and athleticism, and they have notched some quality wins.

In reality, they are 23-22 with a negative point differential, and they are the eighth seed in the East playoff race just a game out of missing the postseason entirely. The Bucks have the 25th ranked defense in the NBA and that has not taken steps forward this season as hoped. They have a gambling/pressure defensive style that can be beaten with good ball movement (even though they backed off that a little of late this team is still bottom 10 defensively in its last 10 games), and on offense they played more like a 1990s team than a 2018 team.

That has cost coach Jason Kidd his job, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Bucks GM Jon Horst confirmed it.

“Many factors went into this decision, but ultimately we decided that a fresh approach and a change in leadership are needed to continue elevating our team to the next level and bringing us closer to our goal of winning championships,” Horst said in a statement. “We believe that making this change now is important for the organization and gives our players the best chance to reach their full potential this season and beyond.

“Jason oversaw an impressive turnaround in his first year, led the team to two playoff appearances and was instrumental in the development of our young talented players. We appreciate his tireless work and the meaningful contributions he made to the organization and the community. We wish him the best.”

This will be a highly sought-after job, but there will be no splashy short-term moves.

A lot of people around the league wondered if this was coming after the season, this was sooner than expected. The question was always how much leverage the future Hall of Fame player had with ownership — the two sides were close — and the answer is not enough. Especially when he would make ridiculous coaching decisions (like fouling late in a game when up four because he feared a four-point play).

This is the right move for Milwaukee, even if the players (and some veteran players around the league in the old boy’s club) don’t like it, but now there’s a lot of pressure on the next hire.

The Bucks brought in Horst as GM this summer — a compromise candidate because the feuding factions of ownership could not agree on the same guy so they went with a choice they could both stomach down the list — and now he gets the chance to put a real stamp on the future of the organization.

With Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker once he gets healthy, the Bucks should be discussed with Philadelphia and Minnesota as the up-and-coming teams in the NBA. However, while you see the promise with the other teams, the Bucks have seemed stalled — two steps up, one step back. This season was another step back, or at least a step sideways. The team wasn’t improving.

The coaching shakeup could help change the dynamic around the team, although the fruits of it likely don’t really come until next season.