Author: Kurt Helin

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game 5

Pacers’ future has lots of questions, starting with where the offense will come from?


All through Team USA training camp in Las Vegas, Paul George talked about the Pacers getting back to the way they played the first half of last season, about being hungry again. The collapse the second part of last season and into the playoffs (they still made the Eastern Conference Finals but never felt like a real threat to Miami) was something that could be put in the past. With LeBron James moving to Cleveland the East was wide open and George thought the Pacers were right in the middle of it.

Then Friday night happened. George is out for the season and the Pacers are left staring at a tough season and some hard choices.

When George does get back on the court, this could be a very different looking Pacers team.

Next season the Pacers should still be solid because they will defend. Last season Indiana had the best defense in the NBA last season allowing jut 96.7 points per 100 possessions over the course of the regular season and their system is not going to change.

That starts with Roy Hibbert protecting the rim — Indiana did a great job of contesting defenders on the perimeter and guiding them into Hibbert and his 7’9” standing reach. He intimidated and owned the paint. He also struggled last season but with George and Lance Stephenson gone (Stephenson signed in Charlotte as a free agent) Hibbert is going to get more touches and be asked to carry more load on the offensive end and when that happens Hibbert is more engaged and active on both ends. The two-time All-Star could put up the best offensive numbers of his career.

But he could be the real long-term problem for the Pacers.

Hibbert can opt-out after next season and become a free agent. If he’s unhappy with the situation in Indiana, or if he just wants longer-term security, he might.

Which leaves the Pacers with the “should we trade him now and get something in return?” question. They quietly have been shopping him this summer with little real interest — he’s coming off a down season and if a team really wants him they know they might be able to get him as a free agent in a year. Nobody is going to give up much. Still, the Pacers have to consider the option, although this is not a franchise that believes in tear-it-down rebuilds.

With that dangling over their heads, the Pacers need to find some offense this season.

Last season Indiana’s 101.5 points per 100 possessions was 22nd in the NBA and that was with George and Stephenson doing most of the shot creation. Now the offense initiation is going to fall to George Hill — look for him to have an improved season, he was asked to be a caretaker/spot-up shooter with George and Stephenson around but now he can go back to being the aggressive player Gregg Popovich didn’t want to part with. But Hill and Hibbert, with David West and a few shooters does not a great offense make.

It will fall to coach Frank Vogel to wring points out of this stone. And his system struggled to do that when he had Stephenson and George.

Indiana could in theory add a piece. Because of the George injury the Pacers can get a “disabled player exception” and add a player worth up to the mid-level exception of $5.3 million. Except the Pacers are just a little over $2 million under the luxury tax line now and they didn’t want to go over that line in the best of times, let alone for this team that likely is not going deep in the playoffs.

Guys like Shawn Marion are still out there and could help, but can they land him.

Expect the Pacers to remain a top 10 certainly (likely top five) defense, but one that is going to fall closer to .500 (or below) because they cannot score enough. Also expect to hear them in a lot of trade rumors as they have a lot of hard questions about the long-term future to answer.

Will Paul George’s injury change USA roster for 2016 Olympics?


The pendulum has swung to the other side.

No doubt what happened to Paul George was gruesome. The fourth quarter of a relatively meaningless USA Basketball exhibition and one of the NBA’s rising stars goes up to block a James Harden shot, comes down with his foot on the base of too-close basketball stanchion and shatters his leg. He’s done for the next year, at least. Whether he is ever the same remains to be seen (although we all hope so).

It scared owners and GMs who have long feared such a thing and they leaned on their media sources about how this could be a tipping point for major NBA players in international competitions. How they don’t like to see the guys they are guaranteed to pay millions to playing for free internationally and risking these kinds of injuries.

Could what happened to George impact the USA’s roster for the 2016 Olympics in Rio?

Probably not much.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has already told the USA Today’s Sam Amick, “I don’t anticipate a major shift in the NBA’s participation in international competitions.”

Damian Lillard has already said he’s not backing away and his attitude will be the prevalent one among the ultra-competitive nature of NBA players.

Then there is the money. Many of the top players will want to go because the Olympics are a big stage and if you are an elite player trying to promote your brand it is the kind of platform you need to be on. To put it bluntly, if Kevin Durant wants to sell the latest Nike KD shoes in South America, Europe and China then the Olympics are a big marketing tool and everyone knows it. Same with Derrick Rose and adidas. Domestically NBA rings matter more than gold medals, but internationally that scale tips some. It’s hard to just say no.

Might LeBron James say no to chasing a basketball record fourth gold? Yes. But he might have anyway. There is no doubt some guys may be more hesitant and teams will be more cautious. But younger stars will want to go.

If a player is injured coming into the summer might the team pressure him to sit? Yes. But they would have done that anyway. See this summer when the Spurs would not release Manu Ginobili to play.

That summer is also a potentially big free agent summer and if a player doesn’t have a deal lined up or is trying to force a trade he may stay out. Think Kevin Love this summer.

But for the NBA to step in more unilaterally is hypocritical. The NBA asks players to play international exhibitions every year for free — NBA players do not get paid for those NBA pre-season games in China, Brazil, Mexico and the like (players are paid during the regular season, they get only a per diam during the preseason). The NBA is fine disrupting its schedule to have a couple of teams play one game in a week during the regular season in London.

But the Olympics would be bad?

NBA owners/GMs do have legitimate concerns. It’s less about Team USA and more about some international players who are pressured into EuroBasket and the World Cup and the Olympics and qualifying tournaments for all of them. It can be a drain. (It’s less of an issue with the very deep Team USA talent pool.) And Mark Cuban has an interesting idea in the NBA putting on its own World Cup so that the NBA owners would profit from these extra games (line their pockets instead of someone else’s’ and suddenly an international tournament is a good idea). Frankly both of those things can go hand-in-hand.

Former Commissioner David Stern floated the idea of doing with the Olympics what soccer has done — make it an under-22 tournament. The idea is to make the World Cup (run by FIBA or the NBA) a bigger event but limit the number of big events the main stars are asked to play. That can work, too, although it seems less likely.

The idea of limiting the number of international tournaments top stars are asked to play is a fair one.

But Pacers’ president Larry Bird is right that these kinds of injuries can happen anywhere. The NBA would be foolish to tell guys they can’t go to play at Rucker Park in New York, the Drew League in Los Angeles, The Goodman League in Washington D.C., the Seattle Pro-Am series or a host of other popular pro-ams in the summer because that helps grow the game, too.

It’s about balance. A better one may need to be struck with regard to international tournaments.

But the Olympics are too big a stage right now not to think the best and brightest will want to step on it and add a gold medal or two to their resume. To cut that off would be bad for the NBA.

Andrew Wiggins still hasn’t spoken to LeBron James

2014 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

Sign 1,439 that Andrew Wiggins will be traded from the Cavaliers…

He still hasn’t spoken to LeBron James.

Wiggins said the Cavaliers haven’t told him anything yet and we know LeBron is in the win-now mode and Kevin Love does that faster than Wiggins, so I guess this should not be a surprise. At the rookie photo shoot Wiggins said again he and LeBron haven’t spoken reports the New York Post, and he still plays it down.

“No. I’m sure he’s busy,” Wiggins said. “I feel like I’m busy, so I am sure he’s busy.”

LeBron reportedly wasn’t too busy to call Love and try to recruit him, but sure, he’s busy.

That said, if LeBron reaches out to Wiggins saying, “Hey, can’t wait to play with you” it gets a little awkward. So he goes silent. It’s really the only play.

Wiggins knows how this is going to end. You know it. I know it. LeBron and Love both know it. So does Flip Saunders and David Griffin (the GMs involved) know it. There may be a few details about who goes for whom that have yet to be finalized, but we pretty much know how the movie ends.

Wiggins cannot be traded until Aug. 23 (30-day moratorium after signing his rookie contract) but it’s likely closer to the start of training camp before it gets finalized. But it will. Then Wiggins and Zach LaVine will turn Minnesota into a festival of high-flying dunks. Not a lot of wins, but they will be entertaining.

Mitch McGary with the…. let’s say “interesting” gymnastics dunk (VIDEO)

Mitch McGary

Well, you don’t see that every day. Fortunately.

On the tumbling portion of the dunk, the Thunder’s Mitch McGary is no Gabby Douglas.

Then again, I’m pretty sure she can’t dunk. Still, if he gets invited to the NBA All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest, he shouldn’t break this one out. Well… it would be funny.

Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine throw it down at rookie photo shoot (VIDEO)

Andrew Wiggins

The annual NBA rookie photo shoot has become something of an impromptu slam dunk contest the past couple years, and Sunday’s was no exception.

If we know one thing about the class of 2014 so far, it is that they have some dunkers.

Starting with Zach LaVine.

Of course, he challenged Andrew Wiggins so….

This is going to be a fun season with the rookies.