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Why Indiana will always love Lance Stephenson: This Picture is Worth A Thousand Words #6

In case this is your first time here, here’s the concept of This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: I take an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers from ABA glory to the modern era and literally write 1,000 words (or more) about the photo.

We’ve covered the misery of Knicks fans against Reggie Miller, that game the Pacers played with only six active players, among other things. You can see all the past columns here.

Today, we talk about Lance Stephenson. Born Ready. The Lord of Hype. Lance make ’em dance.

Stephenson’s team option for the 2018-19 season was declined by the Indiana Pacers which will make him a free agent. The final year of his contract was for only $4.3 million, but Kevin Pritchard and the front office must have some kind of splash in mind this offseason and decided they needed to utilize that money to upgrade the roster.

While the team hasn’t completely ruled out bringing him back, that likely will only happen if the Pacers are unable to sign someone else that fills a role similar to his own. With so few teams having cap space this season, it’s hard to see the Pacers completely striking out. This very well could be the end of Stephenson in a Pacers uniform as rumors spread immediately after the Stephenson news broke that the Pacers are interested in Will Barton, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Smart.

Whether any of those players will be a large enough upgrade over Stephenson to warrant the greater cost is a discussion for another time. Right now, we’re here to talk Lance. Because if this is truly the end, this is the conclusion of an unforgettable tale of a Brooklyn basketball prodigy that became a beloved Indiana legend.

Via @Pacers

This picture was chosen for the column over countless other incredible moments is because it shows the effect that Stephenson had on the Pacers faithful at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. It shows how much the city and state embraced him when he returned from his humbling nearly 3-year journey with five other NBA teams, seldom looking like the player he was before leaving.

“When I got the call, I almost cried,” Stephenson said when he first spoke to reporters after signing his contract to return to the Pacers organization. “I feel like Indiana is family.”

When Stephenson came back at the end of the 2016-17 season, he was a beacon of light in one of the darkest times in recent Pacers history as the Paul George situation loomed over the entire franchise. His first game back against the Toronto Raptors was probably the highlight of the season.

The Pacers were on the verge on missing the playoffs with a collective group that had no business not at least making the postseason. Behind an energetic boost from Lance that seemed to give the entire team some liveliness, the Pacers finished the season on a 5-game winning streak and made the playoffs.

The Pacers were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, but the prodigal son had returned and looked like the Pacers second-best player in the series, almost exactly how Indiana remembered him: aggressive, fearless and flashy.

“Some teams, I’d only get three dribbles, or I’d have to stand in the corner,” Stephenson said this past season when talking about why he’s fit better with Indiana than other places. “They (Pacers staff) let me be myself. They don’t guard me, or tell me not to do stuff. If I play freely, if coaches let me play the game, you’ll see the talent in me.”

When Lance is allowed to be Lance, there is so much to enjoy. You can love him for the silly, slightly crazy parts of his game like the celebrations (air guitar, hip gyration, the bird, the fake heartattack, the shimmy), the headbutting of stanchions after big plays or the fact that searching his name in a GIF finder is a treasure trove of greatness.

All those things showed how much Lance loves the game of basketball. He loves the game with a passion that only can seem to be matched by people from Indiana. He approaches the game with a fierce intensity and a sense of child-like joy. Pure elation when things are going right and never giving up when they aren’t.

There’s nothing quite like experiencing a classic Lance moment in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse as he sizes up an opponent with dribble moves like he’s back in New York at Rucker Park. Every bounce of the ball pushes the crowd closer to a frenzy and when the play reaches its peak as Stephenson goes up for a layup or rises for a jump shot, the entire arena becomes a singular sentient being with the sole purpose of getting hype.

And the moves don’t always work. Sometimes Lance makes pump fakes with one-hand with no effect on the defender, sometimes he loses the ball on the dribble. But maybe that’s part of why the moments are so special when they do.

When Stephenson plays, every pass is an opportunity to engage the crowd. No-look, behind-the-back attempts are as commonplace as a fundamentally sound chest or bounce pass. To this day, I’ve never seen a more impressive pass than one Stephenson made during his first tenure in Indiana: a behind-the-back, no-look, in the air pass to a wide open CJ Watson in the corner for a 3-pointer.

When Stephenson gets the crowd involved, it gives everyone else on the team that same adrenaline boost. That’s the Lance Effect. His energy off the bench this season was a huge part of the Pacers penchant for making comebacks. In the first large comeback of the season, it was Stephenson that sparked the effort in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons by grabbing rebounds on both ends and hitting big shots.

He played a huge part of the team’s comeback against the Nuggets later as well. This time it was his defensive effort making a difference.

But perhaps bigger than his clear passion for the game, his entertainment value and relentless effort, Indiana fans love Stephenson because he is fearless and won’t back down from anyone, especially when it comes to LeBron James.

“I fear no man,” Stephenson said after the Pacers won Game 6 in the first round against the Cavaliers this season. “You on the other team, I don’t care. I don’t care about you.”

Stephenson is well known for his knack of getting under LeBron’s skin. Something that very few, if any, other players can claim they’ve done. While Stephenson is over-matched in skill, strength and every other measurable category to the best player in the world, he has never backed down from challenge of James.

He blew in his ear. He tapped him across the face, grabbed his chest. He flopped at every opportunity. He’d attempt to provoke him. This past season he finally got James to respond and earned two technical calls against LeBron during the season. But he wasn’t just an irritant, Lance picked up his game in the playoffs as well.

In these battles against James, he perfectly symbolizes his team as the one that always gives the best all they can handle, even if they always seem to fall just short.

Stephenson almost made a jump ball one of the best plays in Pacers history when in the fourth quarter of Game 4, he first won a jump ball against James and then held the ball up like it was Simba in the Lion King. Later, in the closing seconds nearly won another one against Jeff Green that would have possibly given the Pacers one last chance to tie the game as you can see one ref call for a tie up and the other call for a foul at about the same time.

He was correctly called for a foul, but that was Lance, never giving up even when the odds are stacked against him. Just as he’s unlikely to do now even if he’s no longer a member of the Pacers.

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I’m going to earn respect 💪🏿

A post shared by Lance Stephenson (@stephensonlance) on

Stephenson is one of a kind. No one will ever match his combination of enthusiam, entertainment, peskiness and fearlessness. He might be gone from Indiana, but he’ll never be forgotten.

Fans on why they loved Stephenson:

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It doesn’t matter what Paul George does. The Pacers won the trade.

Whether or not Paul George stays in Oklahoma City, the Indiana Pacers already won the last summer’s blockbuster trade.

George could stay as a member of the Thunder as their GM Sam Presti felt “really encouraged” by his dialogue with him (doesn’t that sound familiar, Indiana?). Or, he could do what everyone expects and leave for the Lakers or some other team in free agency. We’ve already heard the rumblings that he’s “gone” as ESPN radio host Ryen Russillo said recently, but it doesn’t matter which way he ends up going. The Pacers are better off now than they would have been by keeping George, even a version of himself that wanted to stay.

No one is making jokes about the Pacers anymore (shout-out to the OKC Police Department, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, who has deleted a tweet from early in the season that included a video from The Jump where she said it was ludicrous to say the Pacers were better off without George, and countless others. The Pacers silenced the critics and proved everyone wrong.

“If you don’t respect the Indiana Pacers now,” Victor Oladipo told reporters after the series against Cleveland, “then I have no respect for you.”

Oladipo’s first season in Indiana was better than George’s final one (both by individual and team success) and he’s two years younger. Oladipo will likely make an All-NBA team and an All-Defensive team this season and the city of Indianapolis has embraced him more than it ever did George.

Continue reading It doesn’t matter what Paul George does. The Pacers won the trade.

Indiana and Basketball: A Love Renewed

What has been the most exciting and fulfilling Pacers’ season in years has finally come to an end. What started with confusion, anger, and frustration towards a former player ended with young stars looking towards the future. Somehow losing the franchise’s arguably most talented player in history was a blessing in disguise.

A group primarily made of players who had been given up on or looked over their entire careers, just took one of the greatest players of all-time to the brink of elimination. But more than that, this group brought something back to the people of Indiana that had seemingly escaped this basketball-frenzy state. A sense of “togetherness” that captured the attention of Hoosiers from Elkhart to Evansville. A togetherness that is rare as in professional sports as the caliber of player that eliminated the Pacers in the first round.

What is this togetherness that has echoed the Pacers locker room since late last summer? It’s indescribable, but Hoosiers can sense it from a mile away. It’s a “we above me” mindset, it’s putting the team first and letting individual accolades come as they may. It’s about striving for something that seems out of reach, too good to be true, and not letting the challenge overtake the journey. It’s Victor Oladipo talking about this franchise as if it’s part of his immediate family. It’s Myles Turner’s resilience when the critics (me included) hounded him about his inconsistency. It’s the resolve of the entire team that seemed to always comeback from a double-digit deficit and at minimum make the game interesting. It’s Lance Stephenson’s… well I don’t know, but Lance was Born Ready and born to play basketball in Indiana. He loves the game like only a Hoosier can. It’s the moment when seemingly all 15 Pacer players rushed to help pick up Cory Joseph after driving to the hoop. Actually, let me correct that, it’s when Pacers fans across the state saw that moment and recognized it from memories past.

Cory Joseph
Photo by Pacers Sports and Entertainment

Maybe you recognized it from playing pick-up at your local park during a hot summer day in the Hoosier state. Maybe you recognized it from an Indiana high school sectional final during a brisk February night. Maybe you recognized it from your child’s YMCA league. But wherever you recognized it from, you knew one thing to be true, it was Indiana through and through.

For the past few years Pacer fans have had to do something that we are just not comfortable with. Balancing between supporting our hometown team that plays the sport that grew up here, while knowing that our star player, deep down, had no interest in being the hero we wanted and him to be. I did it, we all did it. We justified his attitude, made excuses for his comments to the press, and went above and beyond to make him feel wanted, and it wasn’t enough. We all remember that Woj notification last summer, “Paul George plans to leave Pacers”. The weeks of angst that followed and eventually the OKC trade that critics everywhere criticized until local police twitter accounts became pundits.

Close to a year later, no one is cracking jokes. The Pacers demanded everyone’s respect in their round one playoff series, they demanded your attention. Not because of their star power or their flashiness, but because of their togetherness. Their abilities and potential as a unit. The energy that connected Pacers fans with an energy and passion that had been dormant for too long. A rejuvenated spirit that only basketball can seem to bring to the state of Indiana. A sense of togetherness that goes beyond Oladipo and Turner, that moves through the young kids watching on TV or listening on the radio, that brings chills and goosebumps to those in the seats of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Yes, this Indiana team has started a new era of Pacers basketball, but more importantly, this group has brought basketball back to where it needs to be: front and center in the hearts and minds of Hoosiers everywhere.

Together, they have put the NBA on notice.

The Indiana Pacers are back, and so is basketball in Indiana.

Can the Indiana Pacers rise above expectations one more time and dethrone LeBron James?

The Indiana Pacers were supposed to win 30 games this year. Every media outlet said so. Even Kevin Pritchard, the person who built this roster, admitted that their expectations were similarly low on the televised broadcast of Game 1 in this series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

They’ve been shocking everyone since the beginning of the season. Can they do it one more time in a road Game 7 against the best player in the world in LeBron James?

“We’re looking forward to it,” said Victor Oladipo of the deciding game after the Pacers blowout win in Game 6. “There’s nothing wrong with a little challenge. Obviously, it’s a big challenge ahead but we’re looking forward to the game.”

Oladipo has relished the challenges all season and has done it with impressive positivity. He’s become a franchise cornerstone, making his first All-Star team and setting career highs in basically every meaningful statistic, while claiming Indianapolis as his city and the fanbase has happily enjoyed the ride and embraced him completely.

Continue reading Can the Indiana Pacers rise above expectations one more time and dethrone LeBron James?

The Pacers resiliency is about to get its ultimate test

The Indiana Pacers have put pride in their resiliency since the beginning of the season.

They’ve set an NBA record for most comebacks from down 15+ points in a season but can they comeback from a 3-2 deficit against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers after a heartbreaking Game 5 loss?

They have reasons to be encouraged. The Cavaliers have won their three games so far by a combined 9 points. The Pacers have still outscored Cleveland over the entire series by 11.

Indiana has stayed remarkably close in these last two contests despite James lighting the Pacers defense on fire while their own best player Victor Oladipo has built an entire neighborhood out of the bricks he’s shot up at the rim.

Maybe all it adds up to a bunch of what ifs if the Pacers end up losing the series, but right now it’s a sign that the Pacers aren’t going to go down easily.

“The series ain’t over,” Oladipo said last night. “You got to win four games the series to be over, right?”

They’ve never given in all season. No reason to think they will now with this surprisingly fun season on the line.

“We do a good job with our backs against the wall,” said Darren Collison after today’s practice.

This group of Pacers have never been in this situation before in the playoffs together, however.

Oladipo has never been the focus of the defense to this extent and his numbers for points and shooting percentage have steadily decreased since his Game 1 playoff introduction leading to his 2-for-15 night in Game 5.

“I ain’t never gonna stop shooting,” Oladipo said earlier this year when a reporter asked about a shooting slump.

His confidence and positivity have always reigned supreme, but the Pacers need their star to be a star (or at least shooting somewhat near his averages) to have a shot at winning the last two games.

Domas Sabonis, in his first real postseason experience, struggled in his first three games mightily but has led the Pacers in scoring the past two games as he’s taken advantage of the 4-on-3 situations that doubling Oladipo has given him.

Myles Turner has been consistent throughout the series with his shooting and kept the Pacers close in Games 2 and 4 but has not been nearly as adept as Sabonis in the past two games at knowing how to slip screens and take advantage of those situations. Too often he hasn’t been ready for the defense on the catch out of the Oladipo trap (though many of Victor’s passes out of these traps have been with little zip and slightly off target) and if the Cavs take away his shot, he hasn’t been able to make the right pass often enough.

Much like in the regular season, the Pacers offense looks better with Sabonis, but the defense is superior with Turner. Turner is the Pacers only rim protector and he was a huge reason the Pacers got off to an early 10-point lead in the first quarter in Game 5 (Pacers were +8 in his minutes in the first quarter). How Nate McMillan balances his two young promising bigs minutes will be key to potential success in Game 6 and perhaps beyond.

While McMillan received some love for Coach of the Year, his performance this series has been uneven. The end of game five ended with the Pacers having one timeout and a foul to give on the table, which left him “disappointed” in himself.

The Pacers were slow to adjust to the Cavaliers trapping in the series and still look unsure of what to do far too often like in the third quarter of Game 5 as the Cavaliers stormed back. McMillan was upset by hero ball in the fourth game but the Pacers late-game offense has been unimaginative all year, simply letting Oladipo do superstar stuff. The Pacers haven’t been able to rely on that this series down the stretch and at times the Pacers have looked lost down the stretch of games.

He’s played some nearly all-bench lineups at times while LeBron was on the court, which is just asking for the Cavs to make a run. These last games of the series will be the true test for McMillan and his stuff. If he’s a true coach of the year candidate, it should show in the team’s adjustments.

The Pacers feel like they’ve been beating themselves during their losses and that may be true, especially with the amount of unforced turnovers. They’ve yet to play at their best for all 48 minutes.

The Pacers might shock the world but they aren’t shocking themselves

The Indiana Pacers are like the fictional African nation of Wakanda from Black Panther. Everyone else in the world thinks they are one thing, just a place you don’t need to worry about, live practice for a first-round contender, but now they’re shocking the basketball world with revelations of their elite technology and weapons that give them a chance against anyone as they go into the fourth game of the series with a 2-1 lead over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Indiana has been staying in obscurity all season, lurking in the shadows, appearing only once on national television.

Except the Pacers have been showing this all year. They weren’t trying to keep this a secret like Wakanda. They beat Cleveland three times this season. They swept the Golden State Warriors. It’s just no one was paying attention or perhaps not taking them seriously enough as a threat to care.

Continue reading The Pacers might shock the world but they aren’t shocking themselves

Oladipo’s positivity pushes the Pacers to surprising season

The Indiana Pacers have a chance to finish with 49 wins tomorrow night. It’s hard to find any outlet that predicted they win more than 35 games and no one was picking them to make the playoffs let alone finish the regular season as a top-5 seed.

It’s no coincidence that the best ways to describe the season and the team are all with positive adjectives:

  1. Fun
  2. Resilient
  3. Together
  4. Surprising

The positivity shines through from the Pacers leader and All Star Victor Oladipo and it’s affected the entire team.

“He’s one of the most positive teammates I’ve ever had,” Thaddeus Young recently said. “I think a lot of the stuff we’re able to do this year is from his positivity.”

Continue reading Oladipo’s positivity pushes the Pacers to surprising season

One moment captures the spirit and togetherness of the 2017-18 Indiana Pacers: This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words #5

In case this is your first time here, here’s the concept of This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: I take an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers from ABA glory to the modern era and literally write 1,000 words (or more) about the photo.

While typically these columns take a more historical look at the Pacers (you can read about Reggie Miller, Roger Brown, the GQ Photoshoot curse, and the Day After the Brawl here), this current group just did something that will remain in Pacers fans memories for those at the game and watching from home for a long, long time.

Continue reading One moment captures the spirit and togetherness of the 2017-18 Indiana Pacers: This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words #5

Dose of Pacers Positivity: Pacers cap situation for next few years is wonderful

The Pacers are in a great position at the trade deadline, but they have to be careful. Take on a bad contract, and things could turn out poorly. Stay the course, and the options look terrific. I present you, Maths: Pacers edition.

The Pacers General Manager Chad Buchanan already said that the team won’t be actively looking to change the team up at the deadline. This team is fun, enjoyable and loves playing together. We should enjoy them for as long as they are around. With many of the players on short-term deals, it may only be one or two seasons. But because of this, the Pacers cap situation for the next couple summers looks great.

Stay with me. I promise this won’t be long. If at any time you need a laugh, just remember to Look Around You.

This season the Pacers are about $6 million under the cap, giving them some wiggle room should a trade develop that asks them to take back salary. However, I want to focus on next season, and the season after that, because hope is in the future. In the Pacers case, the grass really is greener, and right now it’s being cared for by a grounds crew that would make the PGA jealous.

Next year, the Pacers have $74 million in guaranteed salary. There are a few key caveats, though, that might give them more or less, and two player options that will affect who is targeted in free agency.

Assuming Thad Young picks up his player option ($13.7 million), which for our purposes, I hope he does, and assuming Corey Joseph picks up his player option ($7.9 million), which for our purposes, I hope he does (though it’s probably unlikely), the team must decide if Lance Stephenson ($4.6 million) and Joe Young ($1.6 million) are worth it. They are. Boom, we are at $74 million. Or are we (gets paper and pencil)?

Darren Collison and Bojan Threepointovic were signed last summer to two-year, partially guaranteed deals. Should either player be waived before next season, the Pacers open cap room. Collison is guaranteed $2 million and Bojan $1.5 million. Al Jefferson, the forgotten man this season, is guaranteed $4 million next year, and he is in all likelihood very much, very certainly, absolutely, gone.

For our sake (because they have been terrific), let’s just keep DC and BB and give them their $10 and $10.5 million next year. With Al gone (calculating…calculating), the Pacers team salary will be $83 million, and the cap is expected to be $101 million.

With that $18 million, they will need to pay Glenn Robinson, their draft picks, and fill out the roster. It’s not a ton of money, but it’s actually not too bad, and Pritchard has shown his ability to sign players under reasonable deals. Also, as reported by ESPN, a future cash crunch is looming. This makes the money available even better, as the competition to sign contributing players will soften.

What’s really not too bad is the 2019-2020 season. Brace yourself.

The Pacers will have only $34 million in guaranteed salary within a $108 million cap. Whose salary is guaranteed and included in that number? Victor Oladipo ($21 million), Domantas Sabonis ($3.5 million), Myles Turner ($4.5 million), TJ Leaf ($2.8 million), and the ghost of Monta Ellis ($2.2 million).

Are you hyperventilating?  Just Look Around You. The Pacers will have the cap space to, hypothetically, buy the moon.

Lastly, and this short post has been much longer than I wanted, but look again at Oladipo’s salary two years from now. I argued his contract was fine (not good, not bad), in the summer, and that he had a chance to make it look like a good contract. He is, without question, balling out, and I’m hopeful that will continue. Someone else will be making about $35 million…or, you know, the Pacers core combined salaries (plus a ghost) at that time.

To HOPE, my friends!

Victor Oladipo is everything the Indiana Pacers could have possibly hoped he’d be and more

You might be surprised at Victor Oladipo’s performance this year, but he isn’t.

He expected to be this good.

“Y’all might be surprised,” Oladipo told reporters after his 47-point night against the Denver Nuggets earlier this season. “I put in the work. I work every day. I have no limit to how hard I work. I’m trying to be great. There’s no in-between and I can’t settle for anything less.”

He did try to warn us.

Continue reading Victor Oladipo is everything the Indiana Pacers could have possibly hoped he’d be and more

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity: The Anecdotes of Effort

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. This week, I wanted to think about work.

The Pacers are losing, and in this losing streak, I wanted to refocus on a collective team trait that gives me hope: work ethic. Warning: In the few words below, you will not find statistics. Instead, you will see what I think about when first quarter deficits grow, the team is lost on both ends of the floor, and I learn a certain player’s knee is still sore.

Four anecdotes from this season that give me hope:

Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity: The Anecdotes of Effort

Kevin Pritchard has been the gift that keeps on giving

It’s early in Kevin Pritchard’s tenure as the President of Basketball Operations for the Indiana Pacers, but things couldn’t have gone much better over his first seven months considering the hand he was dealt shortly after he took over for Larry Bird.

In the summer, it didn’t look like it was going well to most outside the Pacers organization.

Originally, Pritchard’s plan was to build around Paul George and create a contender that would entice George to remain in Indiana. George seemed willing to let Pritchard try until about a week before the draft and the beginning of the off-season when he had a change of heart and told the Pacers organization that he would not re-sign with the team.

“We had multiple conversations, we talked about players we wanted to add to this team, and it felt like we were in agreement on that,” Pritchard said after the draft. “Not that a player dictates that, but I wanted him to (give) some feedback. We had conversations about players and how we want to go forward. So, for me it was a shock.”

One week before the off-season and all of the Pacers plans were for naught. That gut punch made for a unenviable scenario for Indiana as they quickly turned their focus to creating a completely new plan.

“It couldn’t have come at a worse time for me,” Pritchard said after the draft. “Had we known this a while ago we could have been more prepared. And then the way it got out… we struggled with that.”

Pritchard was unable to find a deal to his liking during the draft and preached patience on waiting for the right deal to materialize even as George’s agent was making it clear to all potential teams that he wanted to be in Los Angeles. Pritchard found the deal he was looking for with Oklahoma City Thunder, but no one seemed to agree that he made the right call.

The return for Paul George of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and no draft picks was laughed at and mocked without mercy by nearly all from police departments, fans, mediaeven other teams. (Myself included in the puzzled-over-Pritchard’s-decision camp to choose this deal and not one that included Gary Harris from Denver in a 3-team deal with Cleveland or waiting for Boston to know whether they would sign Gordon Hayward and trying to snag that juicy Nets pick that would only be in the late lottery if the season ended today.)

No one is laughing now. Except the Pacers.

Pritchard has put together a team that plays hard every night, is more fun than ever and has chemistry that usually takes teams years of playing together to develop.

“My teammates are phenomenal people,” said Oladipo. “When you surround yourself with people that care about you, chemistry comes natural. It’s a special locker room.”

None have been more important to this team transformation than Victor Oladipo, who leads by example, cares for his teammates immensely, and has hit big shot after big shot in the clutch for the Pacers so far this season.

It’s likely that Oladipo makes an All-Star team this season, while George probably does not. Not many would have predicted that when the trade was announced this summer.

“He should be an All-Star starter,” Darren Collison said after a recent practice. “I think he deserves it. Since day one, he’s been the leader that we’ve asked him to be.”

And Sabonis has been a big part of the Pacers emerging chemistry as the guy that seemingly everyone loves to play with.

But the deal that netted the Pacers two key pieces for their bright future is only one move that Pritchard made this off-season. He’s looked to have hit on just about every transaction to this point including signing Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic and trading for Cory Joseph.

In total five of the eight players that play the most minutes for the Pacers were added by Pritchard this off-season and another (Thaddeus Young) was widely looked at as someone they should have looked to trade away after the George news instead of keep around.

Instead of being a lottery-bound league bottom feeder that many expected coming into the season, the Pacers sit at 19-14, good for 4th in the Eastern Conference, and have been a much improved team from last year’s version.

The Pacers looked for players that had the following traits in the George deal and seemed to have carried that over into their free agency moves as well: motivated, toughness, hardworking, togetherness, unselfishness, intelligence, athleticism and chemistry.

““It’s chemistry,” said Lance Stephenson after the Nuggets game, “sticking together and believing in one another. We’re bringing it every night. … There’s no hate. You know what I mean? Some guys get mad about somebody doing good. This team wants their teammates to do good. I feel like that makes this team even better.”

Resilient is another word that should have been added to the list as the Pacers come from behind seemingly every game, especially at home.

The only question so far for Pritchard is how his draft picks of TJ Leaf and Ike Anibogu will turn out, but neither player is even 20 years old yet and it’s too early to jump to any conclusions about them this early in their careers.

“We know that he can score the ball,” McMillan said about Leaf after practice. “We want to see him defend and continue to work on, certainly scoring, but really his first year is about just playing. There’s no pressure, no expectations, other than getting out there to play.”

A big difference between Bird and Pritchard’s style in recent off-seasons is the lack of long-term deals that Pritchard handed out.

Both guys spent most of the cap space that they had available nearly every year, but Bird’s long-term bets in consecutive years on the likes of Rodney Stuckey, Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson not only didn’t work out in the immediate sense but gave the Pacers less wiggle room in following off-seasons to improve the roster.

The Pacers will now still be paying Monta Ellis, who was waived in the off-season using the stretch provision, when the NBA All-Star game makes it long-awaited return to Indianapolis in 2021, and neither Ellis or Stuckey have even found a team willing to sign them at all since they were waived by the Pacers. They aren’t the only players from the 2016-17 roster that are now out of the NBA: Lavoy Allen, Kevin Seraphin, Rakeem Christmas, and Georges Niang.

Pritchard, however, kept the team’s future cap space open while going after overlooked veterans that would take short-term deals with partial guarantees in the final year of the contract.

Collison and Bogdanovic both are making about $10 million this season and at this point look likely to complete their 2-year deals next season with the team, but if they didn’t pan out Indiana could have cut the cord with little cost to their salary cap for next season as the second years had a very small portion of guaranteed money. These contracts also could be used as potential trade sweeteners for teams looking to shed salary to make room in FA for a max contract slot.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like these fail-safe options will be necessary, but Pritchard put the organization in good position either way.

The challenge will eventually become what to do with many of the team’s current players as their contracts end either this summer or the next, including Joseph, Collison, Bogdanovic, Young and Glenn Robinson III, but so far Pritchard has been the gift that keeps on giving for the Indiana Pacers.

These Indiana Pacers never quit

You’ve heard this story before.

The Indiana Pacers start off the game slow, let the opposing team get a lead around 20 points. Then, suddenly, usually sparked by something mildly insane that Lance Stephenson did or a pull-up 3-pointer by Victor Oladipo, the Pacers look like a different team and go on a huge run. The atmosphere is intense. The Banker’s Life Fieldhouse crowd is going crazy. They end up winning by late heroics from Oladipo as he points down to the court, letting everyone know, “This is My City. This is Our House.”

Tonight, the comeback came against the Brooklyn Nets as the Pacers improved to 19-14 on the season and 3-0 against the Nets as they sit in 4th in the Eastern Conference.

Per Pat Boylan, the Pacers have been down by double digits in six of their last seven home games and by at least 16 points in five of those seven home games. Despite this, the Pacers won four of the seven and had a chance in the fourth quarter at winning every one of them.

Continue reading These Indiana Pacers never quit

An iPacers Tale: King Victor shows mercy to the Croatian Mercenary

Disclaimer: None of what you are about to read is real. The quotes are imagined. The scene is fiction. In these dark times after an inexplicable ending resulted in a loss, may this be an escape. Welcome to an iPacers tale.

FADE IN:

INT: THE HOUSE OF BANKERS IN THE PACERS REALM OF LOCKERS

King Victor and The Pacers of the Round Ball gather to discuss the ending of a sudden loss to the Celtics, 112-111, where an errant, foolish pass nearly touched the heavens as the game’s clock wound down and the Celtics of Boston stole the game away.

SIR NATE MCMILLAN, THE KING’S HAND: 
We gather here in the city of King Victor of Oladipo, the Pace of Pacedom, the Twice-Traded Now Redeemed, The Future All-Star, The Ruler of the House of Bankers. There are some obvious discussion topics tonight.

Continue reading An iPacers Tale: King Victor shows mercy to the Croatian Mercenary

Tales from the Block: The Return of Paul George

Tales from the Block: Welcome to Turners Block. In this column, I’ll try to bring a look at the games from inside the craziest, loudest bunch of fans in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse along with the Born Ready Crew. Pardon my absence these last few weeks. I was saving up for this game.

Admit it. When you looked at the schedule to start the season, the first game you looked for was that OKC game against Paul George (who for the rest of this article be referred to as Agent 13). Thankfully it was early in the season.

Continue reading Tales from the Block: The Return of Paul George

The Indiana Pacers chemistry is natural, but not accidental

Kevin Pritchard seems to have created something special in Indiana.

Perhaps not in terms of an abundance of talent on this Pacers team, but in a creation of chemistry that most teams can only dream about having after a few years growing together with little roster turnover. But this team brought in nine new players in a single off-season.

“This is the best locker room that I’ve ever been in,” said Myles Turner.  Continue reading The Indiana Pacers chemistry is natural, but not accidental

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #6: Even a Loss Brings Hope

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. This week, I wanted to think about losing.

First, let me add a note right away: this short column will not be a paean to the (dubious) benefits of tanking that you might find in a certain article not to be named regarding the Pacers.  Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #6: Even a Loss Brings Hope

The Indiana Pacers have never been more fun

The Indiana Pacers (12-9) have had better teams in the past but they’ve never been more fun than this.

Just watch this video. Feel the joy. Buy a home or rent an Airbnb in this lovely neighborhood.

Indiana’s never had more enjoyment from watching the Pacers than with this underdog group of running, gunning, have fun-ing bunch. Almost every game at the Fieldhouse turns into a house party.

The fun all starts with Lance Stephenson, who has averaged over 17 points per game in his last three and has added five assists and eight rebounds in consecutive games.

Stephenson is the Pacers prodigal son, who languishes outside of Indiana when he’s not wearing the blue and gold and thrives in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. He dances and inspires dances. He prances. He plays air guitar. He high-fives the crowd. He head-butts stanchions.

“Coach is doing a good job of letting me play through mistakes,” Stephenson said after tonight’s party of a win against the Orlando Magic. “He lets me be me.”

The Pacers fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything that Lance does elicits a louder reaction than if someone else would have done the same. So when he does something special as has been the case often lately, it feels like the roof may collapse.

But the Pacers are this fun for more than just Lance reasons.

Victor Oladipo made his first 11 shots tonight, which included maybe five heat checks that all went in. It got to the point where even he didn’t know what was happening after banking in a 3-pointer.

Domantas Sabonis continues to be gift from the basketball gods, (mostly the god of European big men Arydvas Sabonis). He scored 19 points while taking just seven shots, added eight rebounds and five assists. That crazy play by Lance wouldn’t have been possible without his expert cut at just the right time.

“I don’t know. It just happens,” Domas said of his on-court play with Lance, “… He understands me. It’s just chemistry.”

The Pacers other stud young big man, Myles Turner, was no slouch tonight either as he scored 18 points in the first three quarters, being unleashed from long range with five attempts and three makes. He nearly had four made 3-pointers but his toes were on the line on one attempt.

“The thing I love about this team is that we never stop competing,” Turner said.

Every game is non-stop effort from the Pacers. They may lose some games, but as Turner said, they’re always competing. Whether they’re down 22 in the third quarter or having just lost a lead at the start of the fourth quarter like tonight.

The Magic were up one briefly in the fourth quarter. Then the Pacers went on a 23-5 run.

The Pacers aren’t just a one-man show these days. Anybody is capable of a huge night to lift the team, Bojan Bogdanovic continues to show a more all-around offensive game than many expected, Thad Young is the glue guy, Darren Collison is capable of occasional 30-point nights. They play together and as a unit. They care about each other off the court.

These Pacers are modern. These Pacers are always looking to run. These Pacers love to play together. The Pacers have never been more fun.

A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #5: Chemistry is Cooking

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. And in this stretch of big (like, HUGE) wins, I thought it best to focus on something that is all too rare in the NBA: noticeable chemistry.

Continue reading A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #5: Chemistry is Cooking