The NBA calendar consists of two seasons — the one in winter where you play games in public arenas that count and the one in the summer that is nearly as structured and demanding in which you where you grind in private gyms.
The offseason is a misnomer, rendered moot by the natural evolution of players competing to get better.
What the Pacers did a few weeks ago, however, pushed the envelope beyond anything that's occurred in franchise history. Every player except Bojan Bogdanovic, who is playing for his national team in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers in Europe, flew to Miami to work at the request of Victor Oladipo, who has established his summer base in the city.
Gathering at the JW Marriott, they lifted weights and worked out in the pool in the morning, broke for lunch, came back to scrimmage and work on skills in the afternoon, then ate dinner together. They also went bowling and hit Top Golf in the evenings, hoping to establish the kind of chemistry they'll need if they are to improve on last season's 48-win total and first-round playoff exit.
It wasn't the type of open-gym session that is popular throughout the NBA, where players come and go at their leisure and mix with players from other teams. That's the sort of environment likely to be found at a facility such as St. Vincent Center, where former players such as Lance Stephenson and Jeff Teague and Indianapolis native Trey Lyles scrimmaged on occasion.
This was different.
"That was the first time I've been part of something like that as a team in the NBA," said Doug McDermott, the four-year veteran who signed a three-year deal with the Pacers earlier in the summer. "I thought it was great what Vic did. We did something every night to jell as a team."
Oladipo organized the week's activities and picked up the dinner tabs, putting his money where the mouths of others have been while describing his evolution into both an elite player and leader. Bring up the Miami workouts to the players who attended the Pacers' annual golf outing at Brickyard Crossing on Wednesday and Oladipo's name came up most often — and not just because of the free meals.
Oladipo received the NBA's Most Improved Player award last season after averaging 23.1 points and earning his first participation in the NBA All-Star Game, but will return a still-improved player next season to hear his teammates tell it.
TJ Leaf, a rookie last season, said Oladipo's ballhandling has improved. Doug McDermott, who played with Oladipo for Oklahoma City over the final six weeks of the 2016-17 season, was impressed with how Oladipo's body has changed. Darren Collison, Oladipo's starting backcourt partner throughout last season, was most impressed by Oladipo's heightened self-assuredness.
"Last year he wasn't sure he could be 'the guy' of a franchise," Collison said. "It was more, "Let's see what happens this year.' After having that year under his belt he's like, "I am the guy. I'm going to lead this team any way possible.' You can kind of see it in his swagger.
"This year it's not just about being an All-Star, but 'I'm an All-Star and my teammates are going to follow me, too.' On the court you're going to see a lot of him lifting the guys up and making all the right plays to get guys involved. I'm excited to watch him play."
Oladipo was in the St. Vincent Center practice facility on April 30 this year, early in the morning after the Pacers were eliminated by Cleveland in the seventh game of their first-round playoff series. Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard talked with Oladipo that morning, and was impressed by the serious effort his star player was putting in at such an unlikely time.
Coach Nate McMillan talked with Oladipo the following morning.
"I want to play in the Finals, so I'm working out until the Finals are over," Oladipo told him.
Myles Turner also drew praise for becoming stronger and more aggressive in the Miami workouts, but Collison reserved his highest praise for two less obvious choices.
"The two players I'm most excited about are Domas (Sabonis) and Doug," Collison said. "I think Doug is a guy who can help us shoot the ball. Domas to me by far had the best off-season in terms of body, on the court, total package. He just looks really good."
Training camp begins in six days. The exhibition season begins in 15 days. The regular season begins in 28 days.
Only time will tell, but the early reports are saying something.
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