Kevin Pritchard apologizes for insinuating Pacers don’t have a star

Domantas Sabonis in Indiana Pacers v Denver Nuggets
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The Pacers are open to rebuilding. Or not.

But the bottom fell out on Indiana’s moderate competitiveness last season. With a 13-18 start (though a positive point difference), this year doesn’t look much better.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard, via Jared Weiss of The Athletic:

“At some point in time, we’ve got to figure out how to manufacture that real star,” Pritchard said. “We had it with Paul (George). He had an ‘it’ factor and so did Victor (Oladipo) and so we’re trying to get that. But we think that a couple of these players could become that too. We may have it already in the gym. But that’s the biggest challenge is, in this sort of marketplace, how do you get a star? It’s hard for us to sign one in free agency, that’s a challenge. But there are other ways to do it, and I think we can do it.”

That quote might not have sat so well with Pacers big Domantas Sabonis, who has made the last two All-Star games.

Pritchard is backtracking.

Pritchard:

Pritchard committed the classic blunder: He told the truth.

Sabonis is a very good player. But he has significant defensive limitations, and his bullying offensive style doesn’t translate quite as well against better opponents.

Consider Sabonis a low-end star? That’s reasonable. Consider Sabonis a notch below? Also reasonable.

You don’t have to defer your star judgments to Eastern Conference coaches who seemingly wanted to reward Indiana’s balanced team success by assigning outsized credit to a single player. Sabonis was the last pick in the 2020 All-Star draft. Last season, he was an injury replacement. Hardly definitive.

Paul George led the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals and went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, pushing the eventual-champion Heat to seven games in 2013. Oladipo was an efficient go-to scorer while still playing tight defense. They were no-doubt stars, “real stars.”

But nothing confers star status more than actual All-Star selections. And Sabonis has two in the last two years.

I appreciate Pritchard’s initial candor, and his clarification is reasonable. “Star” is a vague subjective term, as is “real star.” “Superstar” might land closer to what Pritchard meant.

Pritchard’s job isn’t just speaking publicly, though. He must manage players’ personalities. We’ll see how far his apology goes with someone already rumored to want a trade.

When a report emerged in 2019 Indiana was looking into trading Sabonis, he said, “I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now.” If Sabonis already believed the organization doesn’t fully value him, Pritchard’s quote probably didn’t help.