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by Scott Agness
October 2, 2012
The haircuts were fresh, jerseys were newly-stitched and the sound of cameras clicking filled the practice court.
It must be Pacers Media Day 2012.
After a four-month hiatus, the entire Pacers roster was in Indianapolis to embark on a new journey, one they hope ends much sweeter than their second-round exit to Miami last May. The core remains intact, the bench was upgraded and now it’s lesson time as the on-court activity begins Tuesday.
The Pacers have high hopes for this new season, and there’s no reason they can’t win 50 games. According to big-man Roy Hibbert, the Pacers are “the best kept secret.”
The talent and coaching is there and the coaching is stellar. Brian Shaw’s decision not to leave for his first head coaching gig may have been the best thing to happen to the team over the summer.
Finally, Some Time to Practice. Yeah—Practice
This Pacers team, staff included, will finally get quality time on the practice court together for an extended period. When head coach Frank Vogel first took over on an interim basis, nearly 20 months ago, his primary focus was uniting the team and getting them all to buy in. And they did just that. However, the blue and gold were knocked out of the playoffs in the first-round by Chicago. Still, a step in the right direction. The Pacers front office then removed Vogel’s interim tag after the season but, because of a lockout, the season was rushed and practice was a rarity.
Now, set to begin his first full year, Coach Vogel believes the additional time in training camp and time on the court will help most with the details and habits.
"The one thing that you don’t get when you don’t have enough practice time… is the ability to do little things that we like to do on a daily basis that ingrain habits.
"When you’re able to have the practice time, it’s more time to ingrain those habits, harp on the details, and also expand your packages of things you can do defensively, and offensively—more play calls, more sets, but also, more defensive schemes and the ability to experiment a little bit with different lineup combinations.”
The defending champion Miami Heat are the clear favorites in the Eastern Conference and after that, the Pacers will be challenged by Boston, New Jersey and even New York for the second seed.
“I think we’ve showed signs of being the better team,” said third-year player Paul George. “On paper, (Miami) has better players, but we’re a better team. I think with the improvements of the guys that we got, that only makes things better.”
The national folks have also taken notice, scheduling Indiana for nine nationally-televised games, a well-deserving boost from just one regular season appearance a year ago. This Pacers team hasn’t been shy about their expectations. A title is on their mind and they all believe they have the tools necessary.
“Honestly, I definitely think that’s our goal right now,” Granger insisted. “I really think we have the pieces to do it and it’s just a matter of putting them all together.
“We finished the season last year feeling like we were good enough to win the championship,” Coach Vogel said. “We’re a team that sets our sights high, we shoot for the moon and then we work our butts off to try and get those goals. We’re dreaming big here.”
The biggest area of concern following last season was the bench. During the playoffs, the second-unit never really gelled and hurt the team more than a handful of times. Simply, it had to be addressed. Coach Vogel was most frustrated with the lack of production, movement of the ball and how the group played together.
Out with the old, in with the new
The Pacers now have DJ Augustin, who started 46 games at point guard last year, albeit with the Charlotte Bobcats, to backup George Hill. Gerald Green seems to be the energy guy. And the frontcourt, an area that Coach Vogel was nervous about all year last year, is greatly improved with Ian Mahinmi and Miles Plumlee.
“I think the next step was improving on our second unit,” Paul George said. And we took a huge step in that direction. So, I think with that, we still have to grow chemistry with the new guys but I think that was the big step we needed.”
Story time… with Paul George
By far, my highlight of the 2012 media day came while Paul George was talking to the assembled media. During the three-hour session, players completed the various stations – like autographs, a headshot photo, and a live interview on Pacers.com – in an orderly and timely fashion (in most cases). A group was assembled for the NBA’s Read to Achieve initiative and George was needed as the centerpiece.
When David Benner, the team’s veteran PR man, pulled George aside, he sat down and shot a scene reading to rookie Miles Plumlee, Jeff Pendergraph and newcomer Ian Mahinmi as Boomer and a Pacemate looked on. Classic.
The Pacers begin practice today at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and they will hold two-a-days for the first week. Their first preseason game comes in just over a week on Oct. 10th, against Minnesota in Fargo, North Dakota.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Scott Agness are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.