The Indiana Pacers are a disappointment. I’ll admit I misjudged them, I thought they would be the fourth best team in the East, but if the playoffs started today they could be booking tee times in Cancun because they would have that kind of time. They are 15-18, with a bottom 10 offense that is putting up similar points per possession numbers to a year ago, but their now pedestrian defense is well off the top 10 (often top three) pace it was for years under Frank Vogel. The biggest issue is a lack of consistency — there seems to be two versions of this team, and you never know which one will show up on a given night.
Paul George isn’t enjoying the losing — the Pacers are on a four-game losing streak. Or the lack of identity this team has.
George spoke after practice Thursday and said this Pacers team doesn’t know how to close games, and just isn’t having fun.
“(This season) hasn’t been (fun). We’re trying to work through it. It’s been one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve been a part of…
“Maybe I’m just living in the past of how good we used to be, the personnel, the guys I had around. I’m still living in that moment, maybe. I gotta put myself into a different team and maybe I have to do more, maybe that’s just what it is, maybe I have to do more now. But whatever is, I’m going to figure it out…
“I just have to continue to enjoy playing this game. I’ve been caught up with officials, getting caught up with on-court stuff. And losing sight of how fun this game is to me,. As long as I’m approaching each game to enjoy it … whatever happens on the court, I couldn’t care less. As long as I’m having fun and enjoying what I’m doing.”
First things first: If you read this and thought “George is unhappy, I bet the Pacers try to trade him” you can kiss that idea goodbye. Right now, Larry Bird is hanging up the phone when people call about George. There is no pressure on the Pacers to make a move right now, George has a player option for the summer of 2018, so there is time. The Pacers plan to keep him — if he makes the All-NBA team this season or next the Pacers can then offer him the new “designated player” super-max contract and make it very difficult to leave. Even if he doesn’t qualify for that offer, the Pacers can still offer more than anyone else. Plus, they know they’re not getting another elite superstar that easily, they are going to fight to keep the one they have.
As for this years’ Pacers, George needs to own up to being part of the inconsistency on this team — he shoots 48.4 percent in the Pacers wins, below 40 percent in the losses, and he struggles from three.
Maybe George is living in the past. A handful years back, the Pacers were regulars in the Eastern Conference Finals, riding an elite defense and a George/David West/George Hill offense that was good enough. The roster is not the same. Jeff Teague started slow, hasn’t shot well from three, but has begun to come around. Myles Turner is developing into a special player. And then… Monta Ellis is looking older, Thaddeus Young hasn’t been as good as hoped, and the bench has struggled.
Under Vogel, the Pacers had a defensive identity. Larry Bird wanted to play faster (they are playing just one possession faster a game) and thought Vogel’s message had gotten old (or Vogel wasn’t doing what Bird wanted). The drop off with Nate McMillan has been steep, mostly because what is this team’s identity now? They don’t play that fast, they don’t defend as well, the Pacers don’t have one area where they excel.
George can be part of the solution, but he’s going to need help. Not just from teammates, but from the front office.