The Indiana Pacers are like......life.........when everything inexplicably goes wrong through no fault of our own.......
If you take the view that the Miami Heat, despite their big three, are a flawed champion, then the Pacers were "this" close to winning the Eastern Conference the last two seasons. In all honesty, they were closer in 2012-2013, when a decision to leave your 7'2 rim protecting center on the bench in the last defensive possession, probably cost them the game. Then, again, Frank Vogel is not the only coach to leave his team's best rebounder and rim protector on the bench during a series defining possession, right, Pop?
Last year, the Pacers were not "this" close. They were reasonably close. With better offense and better team chemistry, they probably would have beaten the Heat. On the other hand, they were lucky to beat the Wizards in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. They won because the Wizards were still Playoffs neophytes and the Pacers had Paul George. Obviously, the Pacers do not have Paul George this season. George is the best two-way player in the league without a unibrow and not named LeBron.
Sometimes, in life, you do all the things that you are supposed to do and things simply do not work out or inexplicably implode.
The Pacers took all the necessary precautions, made reasonable personnel moves, and build about as good of a team a small market can build without lucking into the number 1 pick. The Pacers were basketball decision correct, even though a bit morally/loyalty messed up, to let go of Danny Granger, who has barely gotten off the bench for the Miami Heat. They did not desperately chase after Lance Stephenson, and made the wise decision to replace his productions with two decent citizens and team players in Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles, even with the latter's subpar production. They picked up productive rotation players in Damjan Rudez and Lavoy Allen, and have two very good back ups in Ian Mahinmi and C.J. Watson at key bench positions. Of course, when life comes at you fast and things implode, even the little things do not go well. Watson recently returned from injury, while Mahinmi will be out six to eight weeks with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot.
And George, he injured himself participating in a USA Basketball training camp, not snowboarding (ah, Vlad Rad), or riding a motorcycle (I thought Duke guys were smart). Paul George's injury is like someone suffering a stress related breakdown by working overtime or studying too hard for a standardized test. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing and still got messed up. The Pacers were right to lock up George's services for the long term and make him the centerpiece of their franchise. If he returns healthy, George has the potential to be the third or fourth best player in the league for the next decade. The issue now becomes how to build around him. Roy Hibbert has a player's option after this season. Should they let him walk if Hibbert declines the option, or should they move him? Hibbert is probably a 15 and 9, or at best a 17 and 10 guy, and not a 22 and 11 guy, but what other center is available and can give them as much production on both sides of the court as Hibbert can. And if George comes back, Hibbert as your second or third option is not bad. David West is getting old, even if the mid-range assassin's game will age well. West will more than likely be around his career averages for the next three years. His leadership and steady game can put a championship contender over the top, and perhaps, the Pacers could consider moving him for some draft picks or a few young players.
When life comes at you fast, no good deed or innocuous moves/non-moves goes unpunished. While C.J. Miles struggled mightily (addressed below) and Chris Copeland is playing below average basketball, a guy that looked finished four years ago and the Pacers correctly chose not to sign is probably having the best shooting season of his career. Rasual Butler is shooting 56 percent from the field, and 53.4 percent from three point range on 3.7 attempts per game. Butler's PER is 19.86. It is December, and Butler will probably come back to earth. But I understand, Pacers, when it rains, it pours, and right now, it is a combination typhoon and tsunami.
C.J. Miles. If one googles "C.J. Miles" or "CJ Miles," one will not only find information about the current Indiana Pacer, but also the website and twitter feed of a Filipina adult model that is "the hottest nude girl....." who shares the same professional name as the Pacer Guard-Forward. The adult model has more over sixty thousand more followers, go figure.
C.J. Miles, the basketball player, has one of the prettiest shooting motions in the league. It is probably the most aesthetically pleasing jump shot in the game. Unfortunately, like a lot of things in life, just because it looks good does not mean that it is effective. Miles is currently shooting 29 percent from the field (on 9.4 attempts per game!) and 23.8 percent from three point range (on 4.5 attempts per game!!). Miles' injuries which includes migraine symptoms and a sore right calf could be the assistant culprits to his terrible stats. He has even struggled mightily on unconstested field goal attempts, shooting a horrid 21.1 percent. I'm not sure if it has gotten psychological like Chuck Knoblauch's throwing or if it is just the injuries affecting his shot. Miles has shot 39 percent and 38 percent from three point range with high volume attempts the last two years, so there is hope that the laws of averages will even things out. The Eastern Conference is horrible, so the Pacers could still get the eighth seed with Miles' struggles, but it would make their life easier if he returns to form.
In the aftermath of the Malice at the Palace on November 19, 2004, the Pacers signed three players that they kept around for under a month, and then waived. The talented trio were Marcus Haislip, Britton Johnsen, and the one and only, Tremaine Fowlkes. Haislip is the typical pro basketball journeyman, who has played in seven countries including stints in Lebanon and Tunisia. Johnsen is famous for his dunk over LeBron James in the Orlando Summer League in 2003. The former Ute and devout Mormon played in six different countries and had a few stints in the NBA including a part of a season with the Orlando Magic, coached at that time by Doc Rivers. Fowlkes, an NBA Champion, is covered in more detailed, here.
Pacers' Watchability Essay
The Pacers, even with George and Stephenson, were never the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch. However, if you appreciate effort and professionalism, keep watching the Paul George-less Pacers. The difference between the Bulls of the last two years and this years' Pacers is that the Pacers seem to be committed to defense and effort out of their own volition while the Bulls' effort seems to be forced from a demanding and sadistic coach. And there are some subtle entertaining subplots on this team. Watch Roy Hibbert's skilled but unathletic approach to basketball, and see him happier without the craziness of Stephenson. Watch for David West's rebounds and mid-range jumpers, it is professional like your accountant. Teach your kids how to be an effective but unspectacular NBA back up point guard by watching C.J. Watson. Enjoy Rodney Stuckey's weird combo guard mid-range game. Solomon Hill's rollercoaster season is what happen when you insert a guy, who barely played in his rookie season, into the starting lineup in his second year. Lastly, Luis Scola's hair is still getting dem checks.
Paul Tee's Prognosis
Mind Numbing Playoff Team Forever. Only in the Eastern Conference, can a team have a five game losing streak and be only two games out of the Playoff picture.The Pacers' defense, grit, and professionalism will keep them in the Playoff picture all year. If David West is healthy and C.J. Miles snaps out of his prolonged shooting slump, I expect the Pacers to be the 8th seed even with injuries to any more bench guys. Their long term prognosis is essentially dependent on how well Paul George plays when he returns from his injury next year. West is aging, and Roy Hibbert has a player option for 2015-2016. If the Pacers keep them in the fold, and George returns to his pre-injury forms and continue his improvement, the team will be automatically be around the fourth to sixth seed in the Eastern Conference no matter how iffy their backcourt is. George is an elite two-way force who has not reach his full potential. The hard part for the Pacers now is to reconstruct a team around him, as their window to sneak past the Heat have closed, and the Bulls, Cavaliers, and Wizards are clearly better. If George returns as a shell of himself, then, the Pacers will have to face the decision of whether to keep pushing for the eighth seed or blow things up intentionally and rebuild, which is what you have to do when everything implodes around you despite careful effort and planning.