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51Q: Will Larry Bird’s renovation of the Pacers pay off?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

There are two types of basketball analysts: Those who believe the Pacers improved by swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague and those who believe Indiana got worse in the trade.

Teague uses his superior quickness in the pick-and-roll to score and assist more. Hill defends better, commits fewer turnovers and shoots more efficiently.

I prefer Hill. Larry Bird opted for Teague.

I can’t wait to see who’s right.

Though I’m inclined to value Hill’s less-flashy contributions – and like his lead-guard skills if he were called upon for that role – I’m also not arrogant enough to believe I certainly know better than Bird. An all-time great who has excelled as a player, coach and executive deserves some benefit of the doubt.

Bird is leveraging it now.

Seemingly unsatisfied with the team that reached consecutive conference finals in 2013 and 2014, Bird has now fully torn down the roster to build a more dynamic offense around Paul George. The Pacers president has long talked about the change, and we’ll learn this season whether his vision will bear fruit.

In addition to trading Hill for Teague, Bird let Lance Stephenson leave in free agency, deemphasized and traded Roy Hibbert, offended David West into leaving and fired Frank Vogel. In came Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Teague and Nate McMillian.

And Bird hasn’t stopped after jettisoning everyone who regularly started with George in those conference-finals runs. Indiana will miss Ian Mahinmi‘s defense – maybe more than Al Jefferson works as a change-of-pace in the low post. But Bird is fully embracing the course of trading defense for offense.

Debate how he addressed it, but the team’s identity was clear. In the last four years, the Pacers stunk offensively and thrived defensively. Their rank in points per possession:

  • Offense: 20th, 23rd, 23rd, 25th
  • Defense: 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd

The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I see an excellent defense propping up an offense that could have been better. Bird saw a struggling offense and couldn’t look past it.

Indiana now has a deep squad of players who can break down opponents off the dribble. They will have matchup advantages – if they pass well enough to find the player in favorable position. The ball will move plenty between the hardwood and the dribbler’s hands. Between players? That’s a major question mark.

It’s one of numerous hitches in Bird’s plan.

He tried to fast-track the offense last year by moving George from small forward to power forward. Despite Bird’s demands, George resisted. The plan was largely scrapped early in the season.

McMillian was also a curious choice given Bird’s stated goals. McMillian’s Trail Blazers and SuperSonics teams usually played slow. Still, perhaps the coach can adapt his scheme to fit his players (and appease his boss). Bird chose McMillian for a reason, after all.

Bird chose it all.

This is the team he long desired – for better or worse.

Watch Lance Stephenson get into flopping battle in China

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You can take the flopper out of the NBA but you can’t take the flopping out of his game.

Unable to land an NBA contract this season, Lance Stephenson signed with the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association. He has taken his flopping skills to China.

However, he may have met his match with one Chinese player, who tried to sell a non-contact, off-the-ball, sniper-in-the-grassy-knoll level flop that even legendary flopper Vlade Divac would have called extreme. The Chinese referees saw through that and awarded a technical to Stephenson’s team.

Then Stephenson drew another foul later in the game with a flop as he tried to grab the ball away from a player after the play. That drew a foul on the opposing player, who complained and then got his own technical.

It’s all just Lance being Lance.

Kyrie Irving out Saturday vs. Bulls due to shoulder injury

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Already without Caris LeVert for a couple of weeks due to thumb surgery, the Nets just lost their primary playmaker for at least one game.

Kyrie Irving is out Saturday night for Brooklyn’s game in Chicago.

Irving has been battling this pain for some time. This is the kind of injury often seen in swimmers where, due to usage, the bones in the shoulder impinge on the tendons or bursa (the sac of fluid in the joint that makes movement smooth and painless).

The treatment for this is generally rest and time off, it would not be surprising if Irving missed more time to get his shoulder healthy and right (a specialist told the New York Post exactly this). Call it load management or whatever you want, better to get Irving healthy now rather than have this be a chronic thing all season long.

Irving is leading the Nets averaging 28.5 points and 7.2 assists a game, hitting 34.1 percent of his threes, and he’s the guy with the ball in his hands being asked to make plays. The Nets offense is 10.4 points per 100 possessions better when Irving is on the court this season.

Spencer Dinwiddie, who has struggled some with his shooting and efficiency to start the season, now will be asked to step up and carry the load. With the Nets off to a 4-7 start, they don’t want to give up a lot more ground in the East playoff chase (the Nets are currently in a four-way tie for the nine-seed, just half a game out of the playoffs).

Kings’ Dwayne Dedmon snags french fry from Lakers’ fan during game (VIDEO)

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The french fries at Staples Center are pretty good. Better than the popcorn.

Kings’ center Dwayne Dedmon was on the bench at one point Saturday night during the Kings’ loss to the Lakers, looked at the dude sitting next to him in fan seats (and look at that guy, he’s a “dude”), and asks if he can have a french fry.

No ketchup or sauce, but the fries seem to get Dedmon’s seal of approval.

A player like Dedmon burns a lot of calories during a game, you got to keep that energy level up with a few carbs. Plus, french fries are awesome. Can’t blame the guy.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo on Malcolm Brogdon: ‘Definitely wish he was still here’

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Malcolm Brogdon is thriving with the Pacers.

The Bucks are doing just fine without him.

But with Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s super-max decision rapidly approaching, Milwaukee’s controversial decision to sign-and-trade Brogdon during restricted free agency last summer looms over the entire NBA.

The Bucks visit Indiana tomorrow. So, it’s an opportunity to take Antetokounmpo’s temperature on the move.

Jack Maloney of CBS Sports:

“Wish he was still here” because that’s a nice thing to say about a friend? Or “wish he was still here” because Antetokounmpo wanted the Bucks to handle last offseason differently?

The difference means everything to Milwaukee.

Antetokounmpo has consistently said he wants to stay with the Bucks as long as they prioritize winning. Though there were also basketball reasons to move Brogdon, losing him also kept Milwaukee out of the luxury tax. That financial motivation is impossible to overlook.

If the Bucks wanted to keep Brogdon, they could have. They wouldn’t have a first-rounder and two second-rounders incoming from Indiana. They might not have lured Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver in free agency. They’d likely be in the luxury tax. But they would have had Brogdon.

As Antetokounmpo pointed out, Brogdon was complicit in his own exit. Brogdon wanted to play point guard, wanted to have a bigger role. That wasn’t happening in Milwaukee with Eric Bledsoe at point guard and Antetokounmpo as focal point. So, one some level, Antetokounmpo might appreciate the Bucks helping Brogdon get to a more desirable situation rather than leveraging restricted rights over him.

But, at the end of the playoffs, how will Antetokounmpo feel about Brogdon not being at his side for the postseason run? That’s the big question that will determine everything. For now, we’re getting only clues.