When the Indiana Pacers take the court next October, they are going to look a lot like the Indiana Pacers that were the second best team in the East this season — a team that seemed to take a lateral step this season, even a backwards one the second half of the year.
Larry Bird is counting on growth from his core — maturity that comes from painful lessons learned this season combined with consistency. Things are not getting blown up.
Bird, the Pacers team president and the guy making the calls in Indiana, was unequivocal in his end-of-season press conference Monday (streamed on the Pacers’ Web site). Like when asked about coach Frank Vogel’s job being safe despite rumors he was coaching for his job these playoffs.
“There was never any doubt. When the media 800 miles away or 1,000 miles away just writes a story and everybody gets all excited about it, it doesn’t make no sense to me. If you had come and asked me I would have told you, I did tell you, his job was safe….
“His job was never in jeopardy.”
If no changes are coming to the coaching staff, what about to the core of a roster that has struggled to score enough offensively even when things are going well?
“I don’t think so. I like the attitude of our guys, they’re great people, great to be around. As far as the bench, Frank and I will sit down and Kevin (Pritchard, team GM) and talk about it. Last year we went out and changed our bench again, they were up and down.”
Even changing the bench in a big way will be easier said than done — even without re-signing Lance Stephenson the Pacers are over the salary cap. They are not going to be able to spend big on free agents, and it’s going to be hard to move any contracts — they don’t want to move Paul George, Roy Hibbert is owed $30.4 million over the next two years (and can opt out after next season, making it scary for any team that trades for him) and George Hill has three years, $24 million left on his deal.
If you want to know where the Pacers trade assets went, remember that they traded Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and their 2014 first round pick for Luis Scola. That move did not work out like planned. At all.
Is Lance Stephenson going to be back in Indiana next fall?
“Well you don’t know, he’s a free agent and can do whatever he wants. But obviously we will talk about it the next week or two, of our game plan… He’s a free agent, he can talk to any team he wants, and when it comes down to it, it comes down to whether he wants to be here or not.”
Does Bird want him back?
“I always want him back. You just don’t let talent like that walk away if you can help it.”
Indiana is following the model that other teams — notably the Memphis Grizzlies, not to mention San Antonio — have tried to use, which is that keeping a core team together for an extended period and let them grow together.
There is something to that, so long as that core does not have an obvious and exploitable flaw. The Pacers inability to create shots the second half of this season could be that. But Bird thinks by adding some more depth, with some tweaks and growth they can overcome it.