The Pacers took the eventual champion Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago, and reloaded with plenty of reserve talent this summer.
In addition to the return of Danny Granger to the lineup, Indiana added Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, and C.J. Watson in order to solidify the bench unit for another run deep into the postseason.
External expectations for the Pacers are at an all-time high, but it’s no different within the organization. Larry Bird believes the team is poised to compete for a championship as early as this season.
Larry Bird doesn’t play around. He doesn’t soften expectations, doesn’t keep goals artificially low so he can say at season’s end, “See, we overachieved.” So the question was asked of the Indiana Pacers president just a few days before the start of training camp Saturday.
“Does this team have the potential to win a world championship?’’
He never blinked.
“Yes,” he said. “We’re all in.” …
“Anything less than (a Finals appearance or a conference finals appearance) would be a disappointment,” he said. “I think anything over 50 wins is a good season, but I believe we’re built more for the playoffs than we are for the regular season. Because we’re deep and we’ll have time to prepare. It’s hard to beat 10 or 11 guys.”
When Phil Jackson coached those Bulls and Lakers teams to a total of 11 NBA titles, he never coached game-to-game; he always coached each minute as if he was looking at an overview of the entire championship season.
That seems to be what Bird is suggesting here — just get through the regular season as a top-four seed, and prepare your players, schemes, and rotations for the two-month grind of the postseason.
The Granger question is the one of most interest to the Pacers entering the season. If he can coexist with Paul George and fit into Indiana’s team concept, he’ll likely stick around. But if Granger isn’t a match for a team that’s been transformed during his injury-forced absence, it’s quite possible that he could be dealt at the trade deadline for players who could immediately help contribute to Indiana’s championship cause.