30 Teams in 30 Days: New-look Pacers seek next level
Bird remodels Indiana's roster, adds new coach to rev up offense
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, 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 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today’s team: Indiana Pacers
2015-16 record: 45-37
Who’s gone: Coach Frank Vogel, C Stanko Barać, C Jordan Hill, F Solomon Hill, G George Hill, G Ty Lawson, SG Caris LeVert, C Ian Mahinmi, G-F Emir Preldžić
Who’s new: Coach Nate McMillan; SF Georges Niang (via Draft); G Aaron Brooks, C Al Jefferson, F/C Kevin Seraphin, G Nick Zeisloft (via free agency); FJeremy Evans, G Jeff Teague, F Thaddeus Young (via trades)
The lowdown: In Paul George’s first full season back from a broken leg, the Pacers returned to the playoffs in 2015-16.
The first offseason decision by Larry Bird was a complete shocker. He fired Vogel, who steered the club through George’s horrific injury and even managed to help the underdog Pacers put a first-round scare into the Toronto Raptorsbefore losing in seven games. The consensus around the league was that Vogel didn’t deserve to be fired but instead deserved a raise.
Bird issued a rather vague reason for the dismissal and that didn’t pacify everyone, especially when Vogel’s replacement, McMillan, was in-house and elevated from the bench. Was Bird having a mid-life crisis as an executive?
And then Bird assembled one of the more important, and perhaps impressive, summer additions in recent Pacers history. He essentially swapped Indianapolis-born point guards, dumping Hill for Teague, who enjoyed great games against the hometown Pacers in his time with the Hawks. Bird grabbed a very capable forward in Young, or rather, he rescued Young from the depths of the Brooklyn Nets. And the third big move was signing Jefferson, an old-school center whose skills aren’t yet out of date.
Suddenly, all the noise about Vogel died down.
Bird’s biggest beef was the Pacers weren’t fluid enough, that they had grown sluggish and predictable on the floor. He wanted a more wide-open attack. Of course, it’s one thing to want a certain system, quite another to have the right players on the roster capable of flourishing in that system.
He should get quality production from Teague, who should be an upgrade from Hill. Teague can do what Hill couldn’t: attack the rim and find open teammates. Hill was a two-guard at heart and mostly left it up to teammates to create their own shots, which George could do, but others couldn’t. Also, Teague is on the final year of his contract, so never underestimate the determination of a pending free agent — especially in a market where owners are making it rain.
Young is a favorite of many coaches because he’s hard-working, low-maintenance and a no-nonsense veteran. He’s sort of a hybrid forward, not quite rugged enough for the power spot, not a great enough shooter for the swingman spot, but does enough of each well enough (15 points and nine rebound averages last season). He should be a fine compliment to George, and his athletic ability fits Bird’s vision of the Pacers.
Jefferson appears to be in total contrast of the “new” Pacers. He’s a center with 12 years of tread who doesn’t pass or run the floor well. Yet, for those moments when the Pacers need a half-court bucket, he fits the bill. Plus, he can be a solid tutor for second-year big man Myles Turner and teach the youngster all the tricks in the post.
Bird also took a chance on getting Evans, who for some reason hasn’t hit his stride yet in the NBA. Evans is a good athlete at the swing spots and a former Dunk Contest winner, but also a tease. Both the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks gave him chances to flourish and never saw a breakout season from him. Evans is now 28 and if it’s gonna happen, it better happen quickly.
Bird really didn’t surrender anything of significance in making these moves, other than Hill. Jefferson was given a two-year deal and the Pacers’ payroll is free of a clunking contract. All things considered, Bird did well in reshaping the Pacers without mortgaging the future, crucial for a small-market team that sticks to a budget.
McMillan will be charged with mending this together. Some thought Bird would go outside the organization to find Vogel’s replacement, but Bird has long admired McMillan, dating back to their playing days. McMillan’s career record is 484-454 with the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Supersonics, which doesn’t quite stir the masses. Bird is banking on McMillan’s bond with George and his ability to relate to players.
Bird’s taking a chance with McMillan, no doubt. At least he’s also giving McMillan something to work with. The Pacers have a superstar and a proven group of veterans and a young big man with the potential to be very good. They have the look of a top-four team in the East.
Coming Next: Miami Heat
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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 or follow him onTwitter.
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