Projected record: 38-44 (10th in East)
Head coach: Frank Vogel
2013-14 record: 56-26
2013-14 ORtg: 101.5 (22nd)
2013-14 DRtg: 96.7 (1st)
Players in: C.J. Miles, Arinze Onuaku, Chris Singleton, Damjan Rudez, Rodney Stuckey, Shayne Whittington
Players out: Rasual Butler, Andrew Bynum, C.J. Fair, Paul George (injury), Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner
Projected Starting Lineup: George Hill, C.J. Miles, Chris Copeland, David West, Roy Hibbert
That sound? Oh, that’s just Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard softly crying in his office, adding the date of the 2015-16 NBA Draft Lottery draw to his Yahoo Calendar.
The other sound? Burning, as Larry Bird stared so long and hard at his desk that it lit itself on fire.
The Pacers 2014-15 season was going to be tough when the team lost free agent Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets, but it was definitely dead, buried, and then excavated & shot into the sun when Paul George’s femur snapped clean in half underneath a basket stanchion during a Team USA scrimmage.
George’s gruesome injury certainly sank Indy’s upcoming season. But had their relationship with Stephenson not soured so much that he signed with the Hornets for a comparatively tiny difference in salary? It’s not hard to imagine that they could’ve pulled off a weak approximation of their 2013-14 season with those two on the wings backed by Roy Hibbert.
Instead, they… um… they re-signed Lavoy Allen?
Now? It’s up to the Pacers grit-n-grind defense. With Frank Vogel’s defensive schemes, and perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Hibbert still in the fold (barring another meltdown), they’ll still be tough to play, but even tougher to watch for more than four minutes at a time. They’ll struggle mightily on the offensive end; David West is fine as a complementary offensive piece, but now as Indiana’s focal point and few other threats surrounding him, teams will have no fear doubling West and making life harder for him than being a female celebrity’s IT guy.
The pickups of Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles were designed to offset the loss of Stephenson’s playmaking, while lessening the ball handling load on George. Rookie Damjan Rudez is the stretch 4 the Pacers thought Louis Scola would be, but now they’re simply band-aids that will probably prevent the Pacers from ‘properly’ tanking the season.
While that’s something Bird has said he isn’t interested in, it will take Hibbert returning to peak form, David West putting every other power forward in the conference in a headlock (not out of the question), George Hill playing out of his skin, and Rodney Stuckey doing his best Stephenson impression (sans ear-blowing and three-point shot) just to keep the Pacers in the playoff hunt.
With primary big man backup Ian Mahinmi also out for the next two months, the Pacers bench is dangerously thin. The effects of the Scola trade are hurting more than ever: the Pacers sure could use Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green, and last year’s first-round draft pick (which became Bogdan Bogdanovic).
It’s tough to feel positive about last year’s Eastern Conference Finalists in 2014-15. Best-case scenario, their defense and Hibbert/West keep them in the hunt for a mid-tier playoff seed. Worst-case? They score at a league-worst rate and the perimeter defense with George and Stephenson falls apart. That seems more likely. Hello lottery.