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2014-15 NBA Preview: Indiana Pacers

The Miami Heat lost LeBron James and somehow the other Eastern Conference finalist somehow had an even worse offseason.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Pacers: Prediction: 10th in the Eastern Conference

2014 Record: 56-26

Coach: Frank Vogel

Significant Additions: G Rodney Stuckey (free agent), G C.J. Miles (free agent), F Damjan Rudez (free agent)

Significant Subtractions:
G Lance Stephenson (free agent), C Andrew Bynum (free agent), F Evan Turner (free agent), G Rasual Butler (free agent)

Projected Starters: C Roy Hibbert, F David West, F C.J. Miles, G Rodney Stuckey, G George Hill (5.5/10):
Hibbert was a disaster in the playoffs and M.I.A. for the second half of the season really, and rumors circulated that he mentally shut it down after the team traded for Andrew Bynum at the deadline. He has more to prove than anyone in the league. Hibbert's only 27, they're going to be without Paul George most likely the whole season, and the Pacers are going to have no choice but to dump the ball inside to him early and often. Even when he was struggling Hibbert remained a premier rim protector, but he has to pick up his rebounding too. West is unquestionably the team's leader and he enjoyed a solid playoffs, but at 34 he's staring into the abyss and there will be too much asked of him this season. Miles was signed to be a rotation piece before George got hurt, so he'll be shoved into a prominent role that neither he nor the Pacers were prepared for. There's no evidence whatsoever that he can hack it. Stuckey is one of the worst-shooting twos in the league, and not particularly good in any other area to compensate. Hill is a rangy defender and a mentally tough guy, but he was already stretched as a starter the past couple of years and may be exposed now. They'd have been better off moving him to the two and signing a real point guard.

Projected Reserves (5/10):
C.J. Watson is one of the better backup points in the league and it won't be a surprise to see him play a lot with the starters as Hill slides over to shooting guard. Solomon Hill, last year's first-round pick, hardly played as a rookie and wasn't good when he did, but he should get a real opportunity with George out. Chris Copeland is a three-point specialist and nothing else, but he played some desperation playoff minutes and will get his chance now. Croatian Damjan Rudez was one of the best players in Europe and at 28 it's now-or-never for him to find out if he can play at the highest level. He's another guy who'll get a chance to fill the void left by the loss of George. Luis Scola was a major disappointment in his first season in Indiana and like West he's also 34 and near the end. Ian Mahinmi returns for another season as Hibbert's backup and he's a pretty good defender in his own right, though still terribly foul prone.

Coach/Front Office (6/10):
There's no question that the Pacers had a worse off-season than any team in the league, even Houston. Their best player gruesomely broke his leg in a freakish accident during a Team USA scrimmage. Their second-best guy, who had pretty much alienated himself from the rest of the team over the course of the 2013-14 season and was an embarrassment in the playoffs, left for Charlotte as a free agent even though the Pacers made him a competitive offer. They patched the holes as best they could but were hamstrung by not having any draft picks and the pied piper lure LeBron James had on ring-chasing veterans like Shaun Marion. Frank Vogel was signed to a contract extension, and while Team President Larry Bird's faith in him is admirable, I'm not sure it's deserved. Vogel never figured out a way to pull the Pacers out of their nosedive over the second half of the season, never figured out a way to snap the offense out of its funk, and couldn't quell the locker room discord between the incumbents and newcomers Bynum and Evan Turner. Somehow the Pacers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but that was more of an indictment of their opponents than anything they did. My biggest question for the Vogel/Bird regime is why bench players such as Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin played so poorly (or not at all) for them two seasons ago and then thrived elsewhere last season and vice versa. Whoever they plug in for bench roles stink it up immediately when they become Pacers. It's just odd. What the Pacers need is to bottom out and to land a high lottery pick, but they'll probably be too stubborn to come to that conclusion.

Team Rating: 54.5 (2.5x starters rating + 1.5x reserves rating + coach rating) x 2 = 54.5

Did You Know: Here are three dumb Pacers jokes I've thought of in the last five minutes:

1. Though the Pacers won't make the playoffs, Roy Hibbert will average just as many points and rebounds as he did last postseason.

2. I've heard reports of acrimony between Lance Stephenson and the rest of the Pacers, but frankly I don't buy it. It's obvious they miss him quite a bit because now the whole team blows.

3. The Pacers have signed an unknown by the name of John Ringo to play alongside Paul George. It's unclear how they'll perform on the court, but the locker room has never been so harmonious.
(That was for you, Alex Dewey.)