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Mark's Mailbag: Extensions, Summer League, Copeland

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

July 23, 2013, 3:30 PM

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Q. Hey Mark, any chance the Pacers re-sign Paul George and Lance Stephenson this summer rather than next, to keep the vultures from swarming them in summer ‘14?

- Greg

A. This is a timely question, given George's recent comments in Las Vegas about his desire to remain with the Pacers. Apparently Lakers fans are whispering sweet nothings in his ear about a wardrobe change from blue and gold (well, yellow, really) to purple and gold whenever he dares step into the public.

George's answer was diplomatic, but direct: “I'm happy to be in Indiana. I'm happy to be where I am. If I was going to leave Indiana and come to the Lakers, it just wouldn't be a smart move for me. We got a great thing going right now.”

I believe him. And it's obvious the Pacers will do everything in their power to keep him, which in practical terms means offering a max contract. They have until Oct. 31 to offer a new one. After that he becomes a restricted free agent and they can match any offer he receives.

Related: George a Perfect Fit for Pacers' Small Pond »

One could argue on behalf of waiting until the upcoming season ends to deal with this, so that the Pacers have the latest and greatest information before making such a crucial decision. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if they do lock him up before the October deadline.

I don't expect Stephenson to be re-signed this summer, however. It's impossible at this point to determine his long-term financial value, and if he continues to improve at the rate he displayed last season it's going to be difficult to afford him without making other significant moves to unload contracts.

Regardless, I expect George to play many more seasons with the Pacers. Perhaps his entire career. He's a perfect fit in the current locker room culture, and future locker room cultures are likely to be built around him.

Q. I would like to see a story on your thoughts on who stood out during the summer league. I haven’t see anything at all about how individuals really stood out and who didn’t play to potential. Christian Waterford?

- Jeff

A. Basically, the players who were expected to do well in summer league did so. That means the guys with NBA experience and the first-round draft pick. But it didn't seem there were any surprise performances.

Orlando Johnson led the scoring with a 14.6 average. His shooting percentage was a slight disappointment, as he hit 40 percent of his field goal attempts and 33 percent of his three-point attempts. He's a great guy, a hard worker, a natural leader and a solid defender, but he'll likely need to shoot a little better than that to keep his spot in the league long-term. He was the Pacers' best three-point shooter at one point late last season, but faded over the final four games and didn't get much playoff run. (That's a hip way of saying he didn't play much in case you're not up to speed.)

Miles Plumlee averaged 10 points, 9.5 rebounds and three blocked shots, and hit 51.5 percent of his shots – most of which were dunks and layups. He had perhaps the most reassuring performance, reminding everyone that he does indeed have the potential to play in the NBA. Emphasis on potential. He's athletic enough and willing to work. It remains to be seen whether he has the instincts for the game.

It seems a lot of fans have given up on Plumlee, tossing him into the “bust” pile. That makes no sense to me. You aren't a bust until you've proven you can't play in the league, and Plumlee didn't play enough to do that. He appeared in just 14 games, for an average of 3.9 minutes per game. That's not an unusual rookie season for a player on an elite team who was drafted with the 26th pick. He'll likely get more opportunities this season to prove whether or not he belongs.

I'm sticking with the Jeff Foster comparison. Plumlee, like Foster, wasn't drafted to become a scorer. He's a rebounder and defender. He's not as physical as Foster, who some opponents regarded as tough to the point of being dirty, but he's quicker and jumps better. We'll see. But Foster played in 19 games as a rookie, for an average of 4.5 minutes per game, and was left off the playoff roster in 2000. I suppose some people then thought of him as a bust. He wasn't.

I was impressed with the rookie, first-round draft pick Solomon Hill. He averaged 12 points and hit 49 percent of his shots – 56 percent of his three-pointers. He has an awfully refined and mature game for a rookie, and looked to me like someone who can contribute as a rookie. I don't know that he has a high ceiling because he doesn't have exceptional athleticism, but he has a complete game. He essentially replaces Sam Young on the roster, and while I believe Young will find a spot in the league somewhere next season, Hill is a better shooter and no less a player in other areas. So he should qualify as an upgrade. His playing time, however, will depend largely on Danny Granger's health.

Donald Sloan, signed to be the third point guard, also played fairly well. He averaged 10 points and shot 44 percent from the field – 36 percent from the three-point line. His assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6 to 2.8) wasn't great, but it's probably not fair to put much emphasis on that in summer league play, when teams have no chemistry and most of the players are young and unproven.

Nobody else really emerged. I was interested in seeing Jonny Flynn, who was the sixth pick in the draft in 2009 and a second-team all-rookie selection. He had hip surgery following his rookie season and has struggled since then. He played in three games, scored six points and hit just 1-of-8 shots. I hear that he broke plays to hunt for shots – never a good thing for a point guard. He left early to play for the Clippers in the Las Vegas summer league. I couldn't find stats for his games there, but it didn't appear that he made a splash.

As for this Waterford guy, he can't play a lick. In fact he didn't play a lick. But if you're thinking of Christian Watford, he played in three games, averaged three points and hit 30 percent of his shots. I believe he'll play overseas or in the Development League next season.

Q. When the Pacers retired (Roger) Brown and (Mel) Daniels' numbers and (George) McGinnis' – but he's a different story, in my opinion – why wasn't team captain, integral "quarterback" and floor general of all three Pacers ABA championship teams, Freddie Lewis, also given the same well-deserved honor and had his No. 14 lifted to the rafters?...Any insight or opinion on this? If it was (Billy) Keller or (Bob) Netolicky or somebody, I'd admit, it's too big of a reach. But this guy was an all-star point guard, team captain, and a cornerstone equal to Brown and Daniels (both of whom I really like and agree with their numbers being retired, by the way). Freddie Lewis deserves the same treatment, honor and respect.

Please let me know if you disagree and why. If you agree, you work for the Pacers and maybe you could grease some wheels. I think the city (those of us old enough to recall the ABA years) would really get behind it and say, "About time." The Fieldhouse would be packed for his night and Freddie Lewis would be honored as he should be. I never like seeing any Pacer wear No. 14 since ... not Augustin, not anyone. It's a travesty to what Freddie Lewis did for and meant to this franchise. Is Slick Leonard opposed to it? (Why?) Indifferent? (Why?) I've always wondered about his opinion on this.

Thanks and looking forward to a great 2013-14 season. Copeland, Watson, Solomon and maybe a healthy Granger added to a great starting five. Should be great.

- Keith

A. You are preaching to the choir, my friend.

I wrote a lengthy article making the case for Lewis' number being retired for this website last year. It's really a no-brainer.

I could make the argument that Lewis is more deserving than Brown, and perhaps even McGinnis (although both of them obviously deserved the honor). Lewis was the starting point guard and captain of all three ABA championship teams. He was the MVP of the 1972 ABA finals, and might have become the MVP of the '73 finals as well if he hadn't sprained his ankle in the third quarter of Game 7 at Kentucky. He also proved his value by his absence. He was brought off the bench in the Western Division finals against Utah in 1971, and the Pacers lost. Some of the players on that team will tell you they would have won it if Lewis had started.

Brown, by comparison, was breaking down and coming off the bench in 1973, while McGinnis was not on the team in 1970. So, if we're measuring a player by his contributions by championships, Lewis had more to do with those three ABA titles than anyone but Daniels – and Mel probably would say Lewis deserves more credit than him. He and Lewis were roommates, and Lewis has no bigger fan than Daniels.

Lewis also was MVP of the All-Star game while playing for St. Louis. That doesn't count as a contribution to the Pacers, but it wasn't his fault he had been traded. He didn't ask for it to happen.

Beyond that, Lewis was a natural leader. He was the captain of every team he played for – including the Pacers, when he was brought back to the team in the NBA.

I could go on and on, but I already have in the article I wrote for this website.

My article inspired some people who share your opinion to write letters or e-mails to the Pacers. My understanding is that the issue of retiring Lewis' number has been passed along to a committee. Nobody has told me who's on that committee or whether it has reached a decision. Donnie Walsh told me he's in favor of Lewis' number being retired, but he prefers that others make the call.

Lewis has had some tough times since he retired as a player, but seems to be doing well now, and certainly can be filed in the “good guy” folder of life. I don't know of any character issues that should come in to play when considering jersey retirement. He's been nominated for induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame and it's not as far-fetched as some might think for him to be selected someday.

The question has come up that if Lewis is so deserving, why hasn't it already happened? There's a simple answer. The other three ABA players had their numbers retired all at once (a fact that rankled Brown, by the way). The Pacers had sent out ballots to local media members who were familiar with the team's ABA history and asked for their top three choices for jersey retirement. Brown, Daniels and McGinnis were the choices. That didn't mean a fourth player – namely, Lewis – wasn't deserving also, but there was no room on the ballot for that. It was a flaw in the system, basically, and nobody has bothered to correct the oversight.

So here we are.

I did a show with Lewis on my One on One program., which you can find by going to www.1070thefan.com, clicking on Shows, clicking on One on One and scrolling backward to find the one with Lewis, which ran early in 2010.

Q. I'm a crazy Pacers fan in China who has watched the Pacers for more than 10 years. I have a question for you, What do you think Copeland will bring to the team?

- tjpanxiang

A. When you say you're a “crazy Pacers fan,” I hope that means you're a normal person who happens to be crazy about the Pacers, rather than a crazy person who happens to be a Pacer fan. Regardless, I wrote about Copeland when he was introduced to the local media last week.

In short, the most obvious thing he brings is shooting. He hit 42 percent of his three-pointers last season (48 percent in the playoffs). But I believe he has more than that going for him. He's able to take people off the dribble, and he has a respectable post-up game. He's a tweener between small forward and power forward because of his size, so that can be viewed pessimistically or optimistically. Does he lack the skills, athleticism and size to play either position? Or is he a hybrid who can contribute at either position, depending on match-ups? He's what they like to call a “stretch-four” who will spread the defense and create opportunities for cutting teammates. He'll need to do his share of defending and rebounding, but he's not brought in primarily for those purposes. Not every player on a roster has to be a complete player. Specialists have a place, too.

I think he can contribute in a variety of ways as a backup, and will fit well in the locker room. He's come up the hard way, knocking around the Development League and Europe before finally making it to the NBA last season at the age of 28. He's humble and still appears to be hungry. He also has a funky hairstyle, adding a bit of flair here in the heartland.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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