Pacers coach Nate McMillan ‘happy’ LeBron James left Eastern Conference

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The Pacers fared better than any Eastern Conference team had in a half decade against LeBron James in a playoff series.

All Indiana got for its breakthrough performance was a first-round loss.

LeBron ruled the East the last eight years. Just by pushing his Cavaliers to seven games in the first round, the Pacers hit a rare achievement. (The Celtics later lost to Cleveland in seven, too.)

Indiana won’t have to worry about LeBron anymore, as he left the Cavs for the Lakers.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan, via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

“Our approach has always been work on us and not be concerned about what is happening in the league,” McMillan said. “The people wrote us off last season, and now people are going to write Cleveland off. We won’t do that. We know that team is still going to be competitive. Boston is going to get all of their guys back and they’re deep. Toronto is hungry after the season that they had, so the East is going to be very, very competitive.

“Is it open? With LeBron [out]? Yes. We’re happy that he’s gone west. But we know that it’s still going to be a challenge and we have to make sure we work on us and not assume anything. It’s going to be a challenge for us to do the things we did last season and do it better.”

This speaks to LeBron’s stature. I believe McMillan truly believes in focusing on his own team, not outside factors. But LeBron is so powerful, discussing him is unavoidable.

The East is more open now. The Celtics, Raptors and 76ers are first among potential heirs. The Bucks and Pacers comprise the next tier.

So, I certainly wouldn’t pick Indiana. But the Victor Oladipo-led squad – which added Tyreke Evans, Kyle O'Quinn and Doug McDermott over the summer – has a fighting chance.