Pacers keep losing in first round. Are they succeeding or failing?

Pacers-Heat first-round series
Madison Quisenberry/NBAE via Getty Images

After the Pacers lost to the Raptors in the 2016 first round, Paul George dapped up Drake, high-fived Toronto fans and left the court with his head held high.

“At the end of the day, we had a good year,” George said. “We had a good run. It’s our first year together. We had a rookie in our lineup who’s going to get better.”

That rookie, Myles Turner, did get better. But after Indiana got swept by the Heat this year – the Pacers’ fifth straight first-round loss – the tone has changed.

“At some point, you have to get over the hump, man,” Turner said. “Five years of being in the playoffs, five first-round exits. So me, personally, I take that s— personally. You gotta find a way.”

The Pacers’ five-year run of losing in the first round is tied for third-longest since the NBA adopted a 16-team playoff format in 1984. Only the 1997-2003 Timberwolves (seven) and 1993-1998 Trail Blazers (six) have longer streaks of first-round losses:

Indiana’s recent first-round losses:

  • 2016: Raptors 4, Pacers 3
  • 2017: Cavaliers 4, Pacers 0
  • 2018: Cavaliers 4, Pacers 3
  • 2019: Celtics 4, Pacers 0
  • 2020: Heat 4, Pacers 0

The Pacers have shifted identities through this streak.

After reaching the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals behind its defense, Indiana built a more dynamic offense with players like Monta Ellis and Jeff Teague. That vision gave way to a team of scrappy veterans like Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic. Then, the Pacers got younger last summer.

Indiana’s most tenuous moment came when George effectively forced his way out and the Pacers traded him for a meager-looking return in 2017. But Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis demolished expectations and kept the playoff streak going.

Only Turner remains from the 2016 roster. Even the coach (Frank Vogel to Nate McMillan) and lead executive (Larry Bird to Kevin Pritchard) changed during the streak.

Along the way, Indiana produced memorable moments. In 2017, the Pacers lost to Cleveland by just 16 combined points – the closest sweep in NBA history. In 2018, Indiana pushed LeBron James harder in the first round than anyone else has.

But those were still first-round losses.

Losing in the first round is hardly uncommon. When the NBA adopted a 16-team postseason format in 1984, more than a third of the league suffered that fate. Expansion has increased the number of teams missing the playoffs. But more than a quarter of the league still loses in the first round each year.

Yet, the Pacers are especially prolific first-round losers.

Since the NBA adopted that 16-team postseason in 1984, Indiana has lost in the first round 16 times – second behind only the Trail Blazers (20, going on 21).

Probably not coincidentally, Herb Simon bought the Pacers entering the 1983-84 season. Under his watch, the small-market franchise has generally pursued moderate success rather than higher-risk, higher-reward plans. Payroll has mostly remained below the luxury-tax line. If merely making the playoffs with an affordable roster is the goal, the Pacers are succeeding.

While the Pacers spent the last five seasons losing in the first round, the Kings, Suns and Knicks didn’t make the playoffs at all. Is that really better? Maybe Phoenix and Sacramento got enough picks in the lottery to take off, but that remains theoretical. Indiana’s postseason appearances are guaranteed because they already happened.

But the stagnancy can get frustrating. George grew tired of it. Turner is already chafing. Approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency, Oladipo could leave for a more ambitious team.

Next year, are the Pacers more likely to advance to the second round or miss the playoffs? It’s a legitimately difficult question.

They still have Oladipo, Sabonis, Turner and Malcolm Brogdon under contract. But breaking into the Eastern Conference’s top tier won’t be easy without a lottery pick or cap space to upgrade. Yet, those quality players won’t let Indiana fall too far.

Making the playoffs is nice, especially for casual fans who are more likely to attend and watch games when their local team is winning. Sustained success, even moderate success, is commendable.

But, by now, the Pacers have experienced enough of that to want more – maybe even if it requires taking a step back.

NBA Media Day roundup: Zion looking fit, Ayton sounding reserved, more

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Most of the NBA conducted media day on Monday — some moments turned our head.

Here’s what you need to know from media day around the league — just the highlights. This does not include anything on the Nets — there’s a separate story on them — or the Lakers (there will be a story Tuesday morning out of Lakers’ media day).

• The reports of Zion Williamson being in the best shape of his career appear to be true. HoodieBev has the recipts.

We’ll see if this translates to the court — there’s a lot of pressure on him — but Zion looks like he’s put in the work.

• Speaking of players who looked in better shape, James Harden looked slimmed down. He joked he lost 100 pounds, but he also talked about his diet and exercise regimen.

Deandre Ayton got a four-year, $132.9 million contract extension this summer, but not because the Suns were handing it out. Ayton had to get the Pacers to make the offer (which is why he doesn’t have a five-year deal) and then the Suns matched it. Ayton is a guy with a usually upbeat personality, but when asked about his new contract, it was a short answer and a low-key tone.

Coach Monty Williams and All-Star Devin Booker both talked about how they expect Ayton to use the contract as motivation and come out with a monster season. We’ll be watching.

• The Suns’ players and coach had to all answer the “what did you think of the Robert Sarver investigation report?” question, and the answers were unanimous — they were disgusted, saddened, and felt for those (especially the women) who had to deal with his behavior. They also to a man said they had no idea (which, at least before the original ESPN report, may have been true; how he acted around players and those on the business side appears to be different).

• All the Celtics were asked about their former coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension, and Marcus Smart summed up the sentiments well — “it’s been hell.” They were caught off guard like much of the NBA was. That said, to a man, they backed interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

• With P.J. Tucker out in Miami there has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Butler playing the four, especially to close games. Butler himself shot that down, saying he is not a four.

The Heat continue to look for a trade for a four, but may not have one to start the season.

• At his end-of-season media session last May, Pat Riley said Kyle Lowry needed to show up in better shape this season. It appears Lowry did, but did it motivate him? “It’s whatever… everyone has their opinion.”

• It’s not media day unless Kawhi Leonard is laughing.

As for Leonard and load management this season, coach Tyronne Lue said he would play it by ear. But also, expect some.


Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

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