Pacers could fall hard and fast

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The Indiana Pacers just a lot of stability at a time teams need it most.

When they’re good.

The fact got lost during a late-season collapse and near 1-8 playoffs upset, but the Pacers had a darn good year. They finished 56-26, the East’s best record, and reached their second straight conference Finals.

Most winning teams try to keep that good thing going.

By their own volition and bad fortune, the Pacers can’t – at least not as it was constructed last season. Their minutes leader, Paul George, is out for the season with a horrific leg injury. Lance Stephenson, No. 2 in minutes, signed with the Hornets.

No other team projects to go all season without its two minutes leaders from last year, though that could obviously change before the season begins.

From 2012-13 to 2013-14, four teams lost their two minutes leaders:

  • Dallas Mavericks (O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison)
  • Milwaukee Bucks (Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves (Luke Ridnour and Andrei Kirilenko)
  • Utah Jazz (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap)

None of the four made the playoffs won a playoff game in 2012-13, making their willingness to turn over understandable.

But the Pacers are headed into this big change at the top after a strong season – and that hasn’t gone well historically.

Since the NBA-ABA merger, just three teams have reached the conference finals and then lost its two minutes leaders before the next season:

  • 2004 Los Angeles Lakers (Gary Payton and Shaquille O’Neal)
  • 1999 Chicago Bulls (Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman)
  • 1980 Seattle SuperSonics (Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson)

None of the three even made the playoffs the following season

Earlier today, Kurt wrote a good article about the challenges the Pacers will face on the court this season. A significantly larger role for Roy Hibbert isn’t exactly inspiring, and it’s unclear how much of a burden David West and George Hill can carry at this point.

The present for a team like Indiana is troublesome.

So is the history.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.