I'll be curious to watch the Indiana Pacers play a game once basketball season arrives. But can they prompt a second look?
Former Pacers star Paul George, interviewed by Sports Illustrated for the first time since being traded to Oklahoma City, said he wanted to leave because he felt the window was closing on the Pacers winning an NBA championship. I'd say the window closed a while back. The Pacers were closest to the Finals before Roy Hibbert forgot he was 7-foot-2 and the rest of the Pacers remembered they were playing LeBron James. The window slammed shut the moment Lance Stephenson blew in James' ear.
This past season, they were what the Pacers, unfortunately, usually are: an average NBA team.
They'll be striving for average again with the remodeling, but at least there's some mystery involved.
George was dealt to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis and the Pacers picked up new players in the draft (T.J. Leaf being the first-rounder) and free agency (Darren Collison and Bojan Bognavoic) and they are in the midst of trading for Toronto's Cory Joseph. They released Monte Ellis, a failed acquisition from the past.
Those new players will combine with returnees, including Myles Turner, Lance Stephenson and Glenn Robinson III, to form the retooling-in-progress Pacers.
They're obviously not beating the Cavaliers or the Celtics, which was going to be true with or without George.
So why am I curious, if not quite excited, about the new-look, superstar-impaired Pacers?
We're going to see what type of vision emerges in the post-Larry Bird era. Yes, Bird is still around as an advisor, but this is Pacers president Kevin Pritchard's team now, with new right-hand man in general manager Chad Buchanan. Pritchard and Buchanan worked together in Portland, and built the Trail Blazers from nothing into a playoff contender.
We're going to see if Oladipo is a superstar just waiting to come out of the shadows of Russell Westbrook or merely another overpaid NBA player.
Much hinges on Oladipo. He brings name value because of his IndianaUniversity background and his capacity for making the highlight-reel dunk.
Oladipo was the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, going to the Orlando Magic. He's now on this third team at age 25. The Thunder liked him enough to sign him to a four-year, $84 million extension. They ultimately decided to dump his contract for a one-year rental of George.
So Oladipo comes to the Pacers with something to prove, and it's a bit of a homecoming with his IU background. The best-case scenario is that Oladipo can become Dwyane Wade to Turner's Shaquille O'Neal. The worst-case scenario is the Pacers look to move him to his fourth team in a year or two.
It's going to be interesting to see what Oladipo does. He has the personality and energy necessary to be a star. With more room to operate with the Pacers, will he display the talent?
And how does Stephenson fit into all of this?
Bird brought Stephenson back late last season and his brash style of play briefly breathed some life into the Pacers. But Stephenson is now a glaring remnant of the almost-glory years of George, Hibbert, David West and George Hill. Will he fit with the younger core group? Will he try to do too much, to be the superstar now that George is gone? Will he wear out his welcome quickly with Bird no longer in charge?
Maybe Stephenson and Oladipo and play well alongside the veteran hand of Collison. Maybe it all meshes.
Joe Young, another Pacers guard who could see more opportunity ahead, tweeted Tuesday: “We Young but we Ready!! Just wait on it!!”
I'll watch a game. The follow-up question is not unlike that of other Pacers seasons: Can they persuade me to watch two?
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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