30teams30days 2017

30 Teams in 30 Days: With Paul George era over, Indiana Pacers hopes center around Myles Turner

Franchise looking to find the right pieces to surround third-year big man

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.

NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

Today’s team: Indiana Pacers

2016-17 Record: 42-40

Major additions: TJ Leaf (Draft), Victor Oladipo (trade), Domantas Sabonis (trade), Darren Collison (free agency), Bojan Bogdanovic (free agency), Corey Joseph (trade)

Major subtractions: Paul George, CJ Miles, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague

The lowdown: The Summer of Paul managed to rock the Pacers to their core when the stare down between the franchise player and the franchise ended with George leaving and the Pacers rebuilding.

It was inevitable, and one wonders what took the Pacers so long to recognize that George, the face of the franchise for the last five seasons, didn’t want to tough it out with mediocre talent around him. He was one year closer to unrestricted free agency, yet the Pacers refused to deal him last summer or at the trade deadline — decisions that proved costly in the end.

That’s because the Pacers got 50 cents on the dollar from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the blockbuster deal that wasn’t so blockbuster on Indiana’s end.

With George unwilling to commit long-term contractually in any deal — and the team he reportedly likes, the Lakers, would rather wait until he reaches the market next summer rather than surrender assets now — Indiana was in a big bind. The Pacers had little leverage and it showed when they received Oladipo and Sabonis, neither of whom carry the cache of George.

It was a botch by outgoing team president Larry Bird and then by new GM Kevin Pritchard, who said George’s trade request felt like a “gut punch.” Actually, absent of a firm commitment publicly and privately, there was no guarantee George would re-sign. And when he lost a chance for the “super max” contract, the chance of him remaining with the only NBA team he has ever known dried up.

George’s value to the Pacers was on par with Reggie Miller’s back in the day, even though, unlike Miller, George never led the Pacers to the NBA Finals. Still, he was identifiable to the masses, an All-Star who represented himself well in Indiana, helping the team remake itself from the Malice at the Palace days.

The mantle is now handed to Myles Turner, the very skillful third-year center, and now the Pacers are on the clock with regards to surrounding him with the talent to maximize his development. That said, it’s tough to fortify the roster of a small-market team, at least through free agency. Bird was always hamstrung by financial concerns and the Pacers wanted no part of the luxury tax.

That’s why the George trade was so important, yet the yields seem meager.

Former Indiana University star Oladipo will be a fan favorite, with his high-flying play and infectious, embraceable personality. Now free of the imposing shadow and ball dominance of Russell Westbrook, Oladipo could enjoy a breakout season. It wouldn’t be a major surprise if he averages 20 points a game and becomes Indiana’s go-to guy.

Yet, his outside shot remains a work in progress and he comes at a steep financial price (he’ll make $21 million in each of the next four seasons) for a small-market team.

Sabonis, a finesse big man, was inconsistent during his rookie season in OKC, partly because of the logjam at his position. Again, like Oladipo, he’ll have less to worry about in Indiana as playing time and opportunity shouldn’t be a problem. Indiana must find where he fits, either center or power forward, and whether he can forge chemistry next to Turner.

Also, the Pacers used their No. 1 pick on T.J. Leaf, a stretch big man who could fill a need for a team lacking in outside shooters.

With the departure of George, the Pacers wisely chose to do a mini strip-down, refusing to retain the free-agent Teague and buying out Ellis, who had become a drain on the rotation. They also passed on re-signing C.J. Miles and traded for Joseph, a career backup who, along with Collison (making a return to Indiana) will slug it out for the starting point guard spot.

In all, it was a transitional summer for the Pacers and making the playoffs, even in the East, appears to be a reach with so many young players. Even Turner is just 21. Perhaps this is best; a trip to the Draft lottery would help the Pacers find the next Paul George.

Coming Next: Memphis Grizzlies

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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