Last season: 45-37, 7th Seed in the East
Off-season Gains: PG Jeff Teague (trade), C Al Jefferson (free agent), PF Thaddeus Young (trade), PG Aaron Brooks (free agent), PF Kevin Seraphin (free agent), SF Jeremy Evans (trade), Coach Nate McMillan
Off-season Losses: PG George Hill (trade/Utah), SF Solomon Hill (free agent/New Orleans), C Ian Mahinmi (free agent/Washington), C Jordan Hill (free agent/Minnesota), PG Ty Lawson (free agent/Sacramento)
Off-season Stock: I was going to hold on to my shares, but I needed rent money. It's expensive out here.
League Pass Team?: They should pay me to watch them.
A disclaimer about these previews: Sometimes minor transactions happen post-publishing, rendering chunks of what I wrote at the time irrelevant. For example, less than 48 hours after I wrote about the Rockets, they traded away Michael Beasley to the Bucks for Tyler Ennis, which might be good move since the only other backup point guard on Houston's roster was Pablo Prigioni, who's 82-years-old. So take all these with a grain of salt, enjoy my juvenile attempts at comedy, and just brace yourself for Tim Duncan coming out of retirement to join the Hornets or something just to screw with us all.
Does anyone know what to make of the Pacers? Because full disclosure here, I've got no idea what to think. J.R. Wilco pays me in peel-and-eat shrimp to have credible, informed opinions about basketball and I just had to look up who their coach was. I knew they fired Frank Vogel, who seemed to run out of offensive ideas after six years in charge over there, but I wouldn't have ever guessed Nate McMillan unless you threw his name in there in a multiple choice trivia question.
Indy is replacing at least two starters if not three, and radically shifting their identity for the second time in as many seasons. A year ago they dumped Roy Hibbert, lost David West and abandoned their lumbering, stodgy ways for a pace-and-space system with virtually no post-ups. Then this summer they've lost blossoming wing Solomon Hill in free agency and got two bangers inside in Al Jefferson and Thaddeus Young and an actual point guard in Jeff Teague after making do for years with a combo guard/defensive specialist in George Hill. They've built like a traditional basketball team again, kind of like the Spurs are too, come to think of it, with the lion's share of the scoring expected to come from the front court, only it's 2016 and we have no idea if it can be efficient enough to work.
Obviously the focal point is Paul George, who's long been one of my favorite players in the league, with many similarities on both ends of the floor to our very own Kawhi Leonard, except he's a tick more athletic, has a gruesome leg injury in his recent past as well as some off-court baggage. George has mostly shed most of the negatives and having Teague around to set him up will help his offensive efficiency some and spare him of the burden of having to create for others, and he'll also be able to take possessions off when they dump the ball in low. Perhaps he'll be able to make use of the extra energy defensively, where he'll be needed to make up for the losses of Mahinmi and the Hills.
The guy I'm more intrigued with though is Myles Turner, who showed flashes of his potential as a 20-year-old in the first-round of the playoffs against Toronto after an inconsistent rookie season. He could be the next Chris Bosh, 6'11 with a fluid mid-range jumper. I'm guessing he the coaching staff will work on increasing his range out to the three-point line before long. I'm not quite sure if Turner will be a starter or their sixth-man, but I'll be shocked if he doesn't develop into a perennial All-Star.
Jefferson is one of the last of a dying breed, a genuine back-to-the-basket low-post scorer. He's about as athletic as his supporter, he has no left-hand and his pick-and-roll defense has benevolence befitting a gentle giant, but he's still useful in situations where you absolutely need to get a bucket and you've got no better ideas. If you could sub out players for just offense and defense in basketball the way we do in football, Jefferson would be a superstar, but alas for him he was born about 20 years late so all we see are his limitations. Big Al was only healthy enough to play in 47 games last year but personally I hope McMillan pairs him with Turner and George as much as possible. Their length and versatility could nullify some of his immobility defensively and I think that trio together on offense would present more problems than throwing Thaddeus Young out there, who's just a stocky 17-foot jump shooter and not any more of an answer defensively.
I've gotta say, I'm pretty excited about the Teague move for the Pacers. He'll be their first real point guard since who? Mark Jackson? I think he'll thrive playing on a team with a legit alpha dog in George and a defined hierarchy as far as option A, B, C and so on instead of the all-for-one, one-for-all hodgepodge he had at Atlanta where everyone was a second-tier star. He won't have to take the big shots for the Pacers and he'll get more open looks when he does. About the only one who won't benefit from this trade is Monta Ellis, who likes to have the ball in his hands and play pick-and-roll instead of being a catch-and-shoot guy. I've never been a fan of Ellis, mostly for his reprehensible approach to defense, and I'm curious what the Pacers would look like if they moved George to the two and went super big in the front court, with Turner, C.J. Miles or Lavoy Allen at the three.
They've definitely got options on the bench, that's for sure. Aaron Brooks was a sneaky-good signing and he's someone who can get hot and score in a flurry every now and then. Miles was overstretched as a starter in Utah but seems to have settled in well in a bench role for the Pacers as a league-average wing. I'm a bit surprised Allen is still there after the acquisition of Young. I don't see a spot for him in the rotation with everyone healthy, even if he is one of their bouncier guys, and the addition of Kevin Seraphin, who offers more size, only complicates his situation more. Rodney Stuckey had a disastrous season for Indy last year. He's never been able to shoot and now he's gotten up in years to the point where he's not getting to the line as much as he used to. His mere existence is Ellis' salvation.
Bottom line I feel like I should be more excited about the Pacers than I am. I like most of their individual pieces and the moves they made in the off-season and think they can fit well together. But I'm not thrilled about their two-guards and I believe they've downgraded at coach. It will probably take time for all the new guys to mesh and I don't know if there will be much leadership and cohesiveness on the roster if they struggle early. On paper they should be no worse than a four seed, but it won't be a smooth ride to get there.