NBA Season Preview: The Indiana Pacers

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96271311.jpg.7473_crop_340x234.jpgLast season: The Pacers went 32-50, which puts them a step above the downright tragedy of the Nets, Timberwolves, and even the Wizards, but still among some pretty miserable company.

Head Coach: Jim O’Brien will again have the Pacers running (they were the second fastest team in the NBA last season), running, running. This time, however, his system has the benefit of a more gifted point guard.

Key Departures: Troy Murphy, Earl Watson, and Luther Head, though T.J. Ford isn’t far behind them.

Key Additions: Darren Collison, Paul George, hopefully a healthier Tyler Hansbrough, Lance Stephenson, Lance Stephenson’s rap sheet, and possibly Magnum Rolle (an unsigned second round pick).

Best case scenario:
The Pacers improve by leaps and bounds with Darren Collison running point, and mount an improbable surge for the East’s final playoff spot that ultimately falls short.

For that to happen: The aforementioned Collison needs to be just as good as (actually, probably better than) advertised. He made the most of an opportunity in New Orleans, but Collison is the lovable backup/injury replacement no more. This is his team to run, and though Collison showed his maturity as both a player and a person last season, that’s a lot to hinge on a second-year point guard.

However, the Pacers’ best-case outcome relies on factors stretching well beyond Collison. He remains a vital to Indiana’s improvement, but the loss of Troy Murphy is exactly the kind of understated move that could end up docking the Pacers a handful of wins. Replacing Murphy will be some combination of Danny Granger (playing out of position), Tyler Hansbrough, and Josh McRoberts. That’s troubling.

Murphy was second on the team in three-pointers made, second in three-point shooting percentage, and tops among the Pacers in rebounding by a huge margin. Don’t underestimate the impact of the first two (particularly since Indiana was actually a below-average three-point shooting team last season, in spite of their run-and-gun reputation), but it’s Murphy’s rebounding that could be missed most. Hansbrough showed a knack for grabbing the stray board during his abbreviated rookie year, but it remains to be seen whether he can do so against first-string competition.

That kind of uncertainty is worrisome for a squad that was already 29th in the league in offensive rebounding rate, and 22nd in defensive rebounding rate. Indiana was so worried about pushing the pace last season that they forgot the ball altogether, and I’m not sure that’s likely to change given the acquisitions made. If it does, however, it’ll be a credit to Hansbrough, McRoberts, a grown-up Roy Hibbert, and probably Jeff Foster.

More likely the Pacers will: Streak up the court while puttering along. Indiana has made some serious moves for the future, but this roster is obviously incomplete.

We already know what to expect from Danny Granger, who will likely see a slight bump in his overall production/efficiency, even if he’s more or less the same player he was last year. Guys like Collison just have that effect on people. Or really, maybe it’s that guys like T.J. Ford and Earl Watson have that effect on people. Granger will benefit from having a better distributor running the show, even if his game won’t be notably more diverse or explosive than before. ‘He is who he is,’ as they say, and honestly, that’s just fine.

However, talented though Granger and Collison both may be, it’s Indy’s other rotational holes that stand as a bother. Plenty of people are expecting Roy Hibbert to take a great leap forward, but he may just be content to clunk around in his space boots on the launchpad. His per-minute numbers from year one to year two were nearly identical — fairly strong, mind you, if still not indicating much overall improvement — but Hibbert continues to work against himself by racking up fouls.

Per 36 minutes, Hibbert averaged 16.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks last year. Not too shabby, right? Here’s the thing: Hibbert only actually played 36 minutes in a game three times in the entire season, despite starting in 69 games. Hibbert has had his chances, but a push in the post here and a late rotation there have sandbagged him.

Brandon Rush is solid. Paul George is promising. Dahntay Jones is…still pretty surprising, honestly. The Pacers have talent, it’s just of the complementary variety and a little on the green side. 

Prediction: 35 wins. Darren Collison will be this team’s clean, well-lighted place. He’s the type of player through which to run O’Brien’s offense, and Indiana, who has been a bit overrated on that end of the court due to it being a supposed stylistic strength, may actually have a competent attack once again.

Of course, I’m not exactly sure who’s going to be playing much defense at the 4, who’s going to be grabbing the boards, and where the Pacers’ perimeter shooting is going to come from, but hey, these things happen with teams on the mend. Even teams that have been on the mend for the last four seasons.

As long as Indiana is fine with another year of development, a Pacers squad with a bit more order is a proper start.

Jimmy Butler on Markelle Fultz: ‘I know how hard he works’ (VIDEO)

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Much discussion has taken place about the potential impact that new Philadelphia 76ers guard Jimmy Butler might have on the development of struggling young sophomore Markelle Fultz.

Fultz has had the yips for over a year, and Butler did not garner rave reviews from the young stars on his last team, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

There does seem to be some worry that Butler might not respect Fultz, or that Butler might push him even further into whatever psychological hole he’s currently in.

Butler joined the Sixers organization this week, and during his introductory press conference said that he knows that Futlz is a hard worker. It was the right thing to say, perhaps the first in many weeks after Butler went off the rails in Minnesota.

Via Twitter:

That’s promising at this moment. Fultz needs all the help he can get, and not having Butler going directly at him is additive in and of itself.

Sixers fans are hoping things work out with this new group in Philadelphia. Time will tell if Butler will be able to solve some of the issues they’ve had on offense to start the year.

Raptors players say emotions will run high when Dwane Casey returns

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TORONTO (AP) Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas spent a dozen years between them developing their games under coach Dwane Casey. Valanciunas had never played for any other NBA head coach before this season.

When they welcome Casey and his Detroit Pistons back to Toronto on Wednesday night, the two longest-serving current Raptors know emotions will be running high.

“It’s going to be different, but hey, I’m still going to try to take his head off, the team’s head off,” Lowry said with a laugh.

The Raptors will face Detroit for the first time since Casey was fired, just days after Toronto was ousted from the playoffs by Cleveland for the third consecutive season.

Lowry became a four-time NBA all-star under Casey’s watch, while Valanciunas has grown into a multi-skilled big man. Casey had kind words for both Raptors on the eve of his visit. Lowry got off to a rocky start with Casey when the Raptors acquired the temperamental guard in 2012, but he and Valanciunas returned the compliment.

“(Our relationship) changed a lot,” Lowry said. “It went from a guy who kind of wasn’t trusting in what I did, and me not trusting in what he wanted, and kind of us battling back and forth, to him being like, `Hey listen, I believe in what you can do, you show me what you can do,’ and me saying `All right, if you show me that and I’ve showed you what I can do, I’ll listen to you more and we’ll have a good relationship.”‘

“It turned into a great coach-player relationship. And him having young kids, and me having … they played soccer together, so we created a bond off the court also.”

Nick Nurse, who was promoted to head coach after Casey’s dismissal, insisted he was looking forward to seeing his former boss despite rumors the two were not close.

“My communication with whoever is between me and whoever I’m communicating with, whether it’s between Kyle and me and Kawhi (Leonard) and me or Case and me. . . or whoever,” Nurse told The Canadian Press. “I’ll keep that to myself. I am looking forward to seeing him.”

Nurse characterized his relationship with Casey as “good.”

“We have five years together and a lot of success. A lot of battles and a lot of long hours together, working hard,” Nurse said. “He took a team from relative obscurity or the hinterlands to relevance, and that may be the hardest thing to do in this league. I’m glad I was a part of it for five years. We had a lot of success and I learned a lot from the guy and have a lot of respect for the guy.”

The 51-year-old Nurse said the biggest lesson learned under Casey was professionalism and diligence.

“The seriousness of the day-to-day, the grind and probably most importantly is the work ethic,” Nurse said. “He used to say it to us a lot. He’d put his work ethic up against anybody in the league and he was right in that. The guy always had our staff prepared and our players prepared, he taught me all those things.”

After leading Toronto to a team-record 59 wins and the top seed in the East last year, Casey was also named the NBA’s Coach of the Year – after his firing.

The Raptors have a video tribute planned for the 61-year-old Casey early in the game.

“He did some really good things for the city, for the team. I think everybody respects him,” Valanciunas said. “(But) as a business we’ve got to move on and he (ended) up pretty well, so that is life. Sometimes we’re separating.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Steve Kerr jokes after Durant-Draymond spat: ‘I kicked MJ’s ass’

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Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers said on Tuesday that Kevin Durant and Draymond Green had not yet spoken after the two had a dust-up during Monday night’s overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Green was suspended for one game, apparently for repeatedly calling Durant “bitch” while the two were still on the court with the Clippers. It was testy, and Durant was even seen saying what appeared to be the words, “That’s why I’m out.”

Things didn’t calm down when the Warriors returned to the locker room after the game, and a suspension was issued by the team.

Meanwhile, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that he felt that the team would be fine. He reiterated that no team he had ever been on had always experienced smooth sailing. Kerr famously got into a scuffle with Michael Jordan in Bulls training camp in 1995.

To that end, Kerr joked on Tuesday that he had, “Kicked MJ’s ass.”

Via Twitter:

Will things be okay in the Bay moving forward? The team has such a strong culture it’s hard to bet against things getting patched up, especially with regard to how the team will play as they seek another championship this season. Remember, Green was one of the guys who recruited Durant to Golden State in the first place, and the two have the same goal.

The real question many have is whether this spat will have an impact on Durant staying with Golden State this offseason. That’s anybody’s guess, seeing as how Durant is nearly impossible to predict.

For now, we just have to wait.

Kevin Durant appears to mouth ‘That’s why I’m out’ after Draymond Green dustup

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Is Kevin Durant leaving the Golden State Warriors? That has been the question on the minds of many NBA fans for some time now, and the big dust-up between Durant and teammate Draymond Green on Monday night has continued to fuel the speculation that the superstar wing might be headed elsewhere.

That was before any of us saw the following video, where Durant appears to mouth the words, “That’s why I’m out” after he and Green had to be separated during their OT loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Take a look for yourself and tell me that’s not what it appears Durant is saying in this clip.

Via Twitter:

I’m no professional lip-reader, I just play one here on the internet. But it does seem that Durant said to himself, “That’s why I’m out.”

Meanwhile, Green will serve a one-game suspension and new doubt has been cast on the inevitability of the Warriors sweeping through the rest of this season.

I don’t know where Durant will end up next year, but the journey we’re going to be on until he decides is going to be a bumpy one.