2021 Media Day: Rick Carlisle

Sept. 27, 2021 - Rick Carlisle sits down with the media to discuss the upcoming season.

2021 Media Day

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2021 Media Day: Rick Carlisle

Sept. 27, 2021 - Rick Carlisle sits down with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
Sep 27, 2021  |  27:12

2021 Media Day: Kevin Pritchard

Sept. 27, 2021 - Kevin Pritchard sits down with the media to discuss the 21-22 Pacers team and the upcoming season.
Sep 27, 2021  |  16:47

2021 Media Day: Myles Turner

Sept. 27, 2021 - Myles Turner sits down with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
Sep 27, 2021  |  12:35

2021 Media Day: Malcolm Brogdon

Sept. 27, 2021 - Malcolm Brogdon sits down with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
Sep 27, 2021  |  05:58

2021 Media Day: Domantas Sabonis

Sept. 27, 2021 - Domantas Sabonis sits down with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
Sep 27, 2021  |  04:35

2021 Media Day: Caris LeVert

Sept. 27, 2021 - Caris LeVert sits down with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
Sep 27, 2021  |  06:55

2021 Media Day: T.J. Warren

Sept. 27, 2021 - T.J. Warren sits down with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
Sep 27, 2021  |  04:53

2021 Media Day: Justin Holiday

Sept. 27, 2021 - Justin Holiday sits down with the media to discuss the upcoming season.
Sep 27, 2021  |  10:16

Togetherness the Theme at 2021 Pacers Media Day

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Media Day is always a day filled with optimism and excitement. The official tipoff to the start of a new NBA season, the day is usually filled with aspirations of deep playoff runs and anecdotes about dramatic offseason transformations.

This year, however, the optimism surrounding the Pacers seems genuine. After a challenging 2020-21 campaign that saw Indiana miss the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Blue & Gold seem ready to turn the page as they open the next chapter in franchise history.

The Pacers experienced plenty of hardships last season, navigating the NBA's challenging health and safety protocols and dealing with a rash of significant injuries. After the season, Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard made the decision to part ways with first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren and bring in a more experienced coach in Rick Carlisle, who returns for his third stint in Indiana and his second as Pacers head coach.

Now, the Pacers have plenty to look forward to this season. There are still protocols in place, but the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations greatly reduces their impact on players and staff. After playing in front of mostly empty arenas last season, the Pacers can expect Gainbridge Fieldhouse to be operating at full capacity this fall. And while the team is not fully healthy, they are much healthier entering training camp.

"Last year was hard on everybody for a lot of reasons," Carlisle said on Monday. "This is a new beginning. Every fall is another ray of hope for every NBA team."

Carlisle's return is one of several reasons for excitement entering the season. The 61-year-old ranks 15th in NBA history with 836 wins over his two decades as a head coach, including a 2011 NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks.

Carlisle's resume speaks for itself and all of his new players are well aware of his coaching accolades, but the coach is focused on the here and now.

When decorating his new office in the Ascension St. Vincent Center, Carlisle made a point to not include any memorabilia from his previous coaching stops or his playing career (he also won a title as a member of the 1986 Boston Celtics). Instead, he enlisted the help of Vice President of Player Relations Karen Atkeson to print and frame roughly a dozen photos of members of the current Pacers "doing things that demonstrate togetherness." Carlisle and his wife, Donna, then hung those photos on his office walls last weekend.

"Our goal is to be together," Carlisle said on Monday.

"It's important as a new and incoming staff that we listen to these guys, hear what they have to say, take all those things, process them. And then tonight, when I speak to the team about our plan heading into training camp and for the season, we've got to be decisive, concise, and on point about who we are and what we're going to stand for."

Training camp officially starts on Tuesday, but the Pacers have been working on building that togetherness for months. Immediately after Carlisle was hired, the new coach made a point of traveling across the country to meet with each of his new players, chatting with them over meals, and watching them conduct offseason workouts.

At the same time, Pacers point guard Malcolm Brogdon took it upon himself to organize a players-only mini-camp in late July in Los Angeles, which nearly the entire team attended. The players then arrived early in Indianapolis this month, with the whole team in town over a week before the start of training camp.

"When you come off a season where you don't (make the playoffs), you have all this time," Pacers center Myles Turner said. "You have a lot of time to think, a lot of time I guess to let your thoughts wander. But when you bring the group back together, the group that you're going to be going to war with in a sense, it just helps gather camaraderie early."

Pritchard said after last season that he wanted to see more leadership in the locker room. Brogdon, in particular, answered that call over the summer. Carlisle said he has had several discussions with Brogdon on the topic of leadership and was impressed to see him "take the reins" to organize the workouts in Los Angeles.

"He's just kind of a natural leader," Pacers guard Caris LeVert said of Brogdon. "One of those guys when he speaks people listen."

Though the Pacers missed the playoffs last season, Pritchard expects them to return to the postseason this season.

"I really believe that this team's going to be highly, highly competitive," Pritchard said.

Pritchard has already seen evidence of the team buying in to Carlisle's message of togetherness. He hoped that the relaxation of health and safety protocols will allow for more bonding opportunities, like team dinners on road trips.

"I think this team's going to have an edge. I think you're going to see a team come together and (have) a lot of excitement...I think the guys are really going to be rooting for each other."

While Carlisle has met individually with his players throughout the offseason, he plans to give his first full address to the entire team on Monday night. He offered a bit of a preview of what that message will be during Media Day.

"It's important that they understand where they are," Carlisle said. "This is Indiana. This is a place of hard-working folks that are very prideful. And we've got to reflect that with how we play...That's a responsibility that we must not take lightly."

T.J. Warren

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Warren Still Healing, But Others Ready to Go

The Pacers will be without one projected starter for the start of the season, as forward T.J. Warren remains out indefinitely due to a stress fracture in his left foot. The 6-8 Warren seemed poised for a breakout season after starring in the NBA bubble in Orlando to close out the 2019-20 season, but he suffered the foot injury just four games into last year and missed the rest of the season.

The team announced on Sept. 7 that Warren's injury "is healing during the rehabilitation process, but not at the pace previously anticipated." He is out indefinitely.

Warren spoke with the media on Monday and said that he did not have any setbacks in his rehab, but his foot is just not healing quite as fast as doctors originally thought it would. There are no plans for surgery and he does expect to play at some point this season, but it's too early to pinpoint a timeline for his return.

"We want to do what's best for T.J.," Pritchard said. "We never take a short-term view of this."

While Carlisle acknowledged the difficulty in replacing a player like Warren, who led Indiana in scoring in 2019-20 at 19.5 points per game, he said that he felt like the team has the depth to hold down the fort in Warren's absence.

Carlisle said Warren's injury played a significant role in Indiana's decision to sign Torrey Craig, a defensive-minded forward, in free agency. Returning players Oshae Brissett and Kelan Martin will also have the chance to earn minutes in Warren's absence, according to Carlisle.

While Warren remains sidelined, several other key players enter training camp healthy after battling various challenges last season.

Turner missed 16 games at the end of the season with a partial tear of the plantar plate in his right great toe. He said he had to remain off his foot for three to four months, but "feels great" now, and has undergone a significant body transformation over the past couple months, dropping 25 pounds and reducing his body fat by 5.5 percent from April to September.

LeVert faced a most unexpected challenge last season when he was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in his left kidney following his trade to Indiana on Jan. 16. He underwent surgery and missed nearly two months of game action.

LeVert still appeared in 35 games for Indiana and averaged 20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists, but said the effects of the surgery still had an impact in his play on the court.

"I tried to get my conditioning back," LeVert said of his focus over the summer. "With the surgery that I had last year, it was tough for me late in games to feel like myself, especially in the fourth quarter."

LeVert said he feels in much better shape entering this season and has also been able to build back strength and weight that he lost as result of his surgery.

Reserve guard Jeremy Lamb is also cleared for training camp after not playing the final month of last season due to a sore left knee.

The only Pacer not expected to play this season is Edmond Sumner. The fifth-year guard was coming off the best season of his career, averaging 7.5 points in 53 games last season, but tore his left Achilles tendon in an offseason workout on Sept. 9.

Sumner underwent successful surgery on Sept. 14. Carlisle said he had J.J. Barea and Dwight Powell, two of his former players from Dallas who also suffered Achilles injuries, reach out to Sumner to help provide guidance as he starts his recovery.

Isaiah Jackson

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Jackson Earns High Praise

A lot has been written about Chris Duarte, who the Pacers drafted with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. The 24-year-old starred in Summer League and appears poised to potentially crack Indiana's rotation as a rookie.

Duarte continued to earn praise on Media Day, but the most eye-popping quotes on Monday were about fellow rookie Isaiah Jackson.

The 19-year-old, whom Indiana acquired with the 22nd overall pick, is more of a long-term project than Duarte after just one season at Kentucky. But the Pacers definitely think highly of Jackson's long-term potential.

"His defensive versatility is absolutely breathtaking," Carlisle said. "I just have not seen a guy move, block shots, change shots, be able to guard any position the way I've seen him be able to do it."

Jackson averaged 2.6 blocks in just 20.8 minutes per game at Kentucky and then turned some heads in Las Vegas, where he tied the Summer League record with seven blocks in a win over Washington.

The 6-10 forward also has shown the potential to be a lob threat in transition and even is showing promise as a shooter, according to Carlisle.

"I don't know if we've had that kind of a talented athlete in the building since probably Paul George," Pritchard said. "I'm not trying to compare him to Paul George right now, but as a pure athlete, he does some things that I've not seen in the gym in a long time."

While Jackson played center at Kentucky, Carlisle said he thinks he can develop into a player capable of playing power forward as well in the NBA, which would allow him to potentially play alongside either of Turner or two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis.

Jackson may not be likely to crack the rotation right away, but if Carlisle and Pritchard are to be believed, he may be seeing the floor sooner than anticipated.

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