Pacers Have a Long Way To Go – And They’re Going
For a team in need of becoming better acquainted, it’s the perfect antidote to unfamiliarity. Not the most pleasant, perhaps, but valuable and timely just the same.
The Pacers leave at noon Tuesday for Mumbai, India, a 16-hour flight to a country that has never hosted an NBA game and a city that is not suitable for extensive tourism. If anything can bring a group together, surely this is it.
“Not looking forward to the travel time, obviously, but I think it’s good for the team,” said the exceptionally well-traveled Domantas Sabonis, who like Myles Turner spent part of the summer in China playing in the World Cup.
NBA teams once conducted training camps away from home to force themselves together in a relatively confined environment. The Pacers have gone everywhere from Rensselaer to Terre Haute to West Lafayette to Waco, Tex. to Chapel Hill, N.C. and Orlando in search of group harmony. Most teams stay put today, but the journey the Pacers are making to play Sacramento on Friday and Saturday will provide a throwback camping trip they hope quickens their quest for chemistry.
With four new starters until Victor Oladipo returns and a few other new players likely to be part of the playing rotation, they need a more intense break-in period than usual.
The chartered aircraft will make the trip as comfortable as possible and the length will provide ample opportunity to do more than eat and sleep. Kevin Pritchard, president of basketball operations, said a video has been assembled to show the players. There also will be structured opportunities for them to speak with one another and coach Nate McMillan will pass out a book, “The Power of a Positive Team: Proven Principles and Practices that Make Great Teams Great.”
Male bonding across 12 ½ time zones, out and back.
“On and off the court,” point guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “Even the plane ride. It’s long and a lot of guys are dreading it, but it’s a good place to bond, a good place to talk, laugh, just be around each other for a while.”
The Pacers emerged from their fifth and final pre-trip practice at St. Vincent Center on Monday in an apparent state of sound mind and body. Rookie Goga Bitadze (ankle) and TJ Leaf (quad) suffered slight strains in the morning session, but neither was believed to be serious.
The starters – Turner, Sabonis, Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb - will each play between 24 and 30 minutes in Friday’s game, but Turner and Sabonis will sit out the second game unless a shortage of big men requires their participation. McMillan said the newcomers in the group will play in all four preseason games, which includes those against Chicago and Minnesota at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Oct. 11 and 15, respectively.
McMillan said he has been unable to identify any “stars” of the early training camp practices. The focus has been on teaching the new players a system that’s new to them and running chemistry experiments.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “With all the new faces, you know it’s going to take some time. We’re trying to teach nine guys the system … and they have to build chemistry at the same time. We’re trying to be patient with them. We’ve given them a lot.
“I’m not too concerned how they look individually, as opposed to these guys picking up what we want to do collectively.”
The primary chemical challenges will be establishing the twin tower tandem of Turner and Sabonis and building around a new point guard in Brogdon. The early returns are positive.
“I love this team,” Brogdon said Monday.
“I just went over to Myles and Domas and told them how much I enjoy playing with bigs who can catch, that are tough, physical. They can finish, they can shoot, they can pass, they’re so skilled, smart. Just super excited to be with these guys.”
Sabonis volleyed back to Brogdon.
“He’s great; he’s a leader,” Sabonis said. “He knows what he’s doing. He has a lot of poise, takes his time, always tries to find the best shot for him or his teammates.”
That’s a start. But the Pacers have a long way to go, and not just geographically.
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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