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The loss of Kobe Bryant caught everyone off guard. For my generation, we will always talk about where we were when we heard that Kobe died. That shows just how much he meant to us and our basketball dreams. Everyone wanted to be like Kobe. He was our Michael Jordan. Whether you were a Kobe fan or not, you better believe that any basketball fan would turn on his games if he was on national TV. Most nights he was on TV, he did not disappoint. He inspired our generation to have the “Mamba Mentality” and work hard and be tough. You cannot tell the story of the NBA without Kobe Bryant, and he will be missed.
My favorite Kobe memory was watching him beat the Boston Celtics in the 2010 Finals. The Celtics were stacked with their Big 3, but the Lakers had built a team as well. Kobe led them to his last title. Another favorite memory of mine was his last game--it was fitting for Bryant to score 60 points by the end of the night. He came into the league as a scoring monster and that’s how he left the league.
The death of Kobe Bryant sent shockwaves not only through the NBA but through the hearts and minds of everyone. Kobe inspired a whole generation of kids to play basketball. When you shoot a paper ball into a trash can, what do you say? "Kobe". He was our Michael Jordan. Growing up watching Kobe become this amazing player and an unforgettable legend was unreal.
My favorite Kobe moment was his Alley Oop to Shaq in the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The Lakers started the fourth quarter down by 16 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Kobe flips a switch and the Lakers start coming back. With 49 seconds left in the game, Kobe drives to the left side, throws a perfect lob, and Shaq hammers down a dunk so powerful that I bet it shook the whole city of L.A. That play cemented the victory for the Lakers and moved them onto the NBA Finals.
Kobe Bryant’s death will forever live in American History. The moment the news broke, it seemed as if the whole earth stopped. Kobe’s impact wasn’t just felt in the United States but all over the world. He was a basketball icon for the entire globe. Unfortunately, I didn’t start picking up on NBA action until the later stages of Kobe’s career. However, I do remember the first team I ever used in NBA 2K was the 2010 Lakers championship team, led by Kobe.
The most memorable Kobe moment for me would be his final night of NBA action. I was fortunate to watch the game live and see him go for 60, eventually hitting the go-ahead bucket to give the Lakers a win. It was similar to when Derek Jeter hit the walk-off in his final home game for the Yankees. It was a surreal moment and one of the most epic performances of the decade, regardless of how many shots it took.
When I heard the news about Kobe Bryant, I was absolutely shocked. My initial thought was that it could not be real and that TMZ just made this up. Kobe was an excellent basketball player, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to grow up and experience his greatness throughout most of my life. He was that one guy that could absolutely score at will. He had that “work harder” mentality that made him so much better than everyone else. I also remember Kobe Bryant as a father to his daughters. He was an advocate for women’s basketball, and I think that speaks for how great of a dad he was to his children. The fact that his daughter passed with him is absolutely heartbreaking. Kobe was a good role model to me and was someone I always looked up to. He was loyal to his team, he was one of the best to ever do it, and he showed us all how to be a supportive dad.
My favorite Kobe moment happened when Matt Barnes tried to make him flinch on the inbound, but Bryant just stared back at him. That was when I realized that Kobe Bryant was a bad man. Matt Barnes was known to get in people’s heads, but Kobe proved that he was mentally superior to everyone else on the court with him. RIP Mamba.
I am writing this a few weeks after the tragedy, yet it strikes me how sad I still am at the loss of Kobe Bean Bryant. Kobe was a true superstar, a top ten player of all time, and an all-time competitor. As a leader, Kobe never cared about you liking him- he only cared about winning. This rubbed some people the wrong way- like Smush Parker- but Kobe only cared about winning. If you were not a winner, then you had no place taking the floor as his teammate. He did whatever it took to win, and was either the best or second best player on five championship teams as a result.
My favorite Kobe moment was in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, when he threw an alley-oop to Shaquille O’Neal that capped off a 15-point comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers. The moment is pure joy, from the moment Kobe passed it to the moment in which Shaq caught it, dunked it, and pointed down the court in pure jubilation after the incredible nature of that particular play. It also was the focal point of the Lakers dynasty in which they won three championships in a row, and Kobe’s first legendary moment in the league.
The respect the game of basketball has for Kobe Bryant goes beyond the five championships, two finals MVPs, regular season MVP and the 81-point game. Kobe Bryant’s accomplishments are just a result of what made him the game’s greatest competitor. The competitive nature of Kobe is one that can’t be compared to another. From the beginning to the end of his career, Kobe wanted to be the greatest. Challenging Michael Jordan every chance he got, challenging his own teammates to be better, challenging every opponent to stop his greatness in the regular season, postseason, and even All-Star games set him apart.
Kobe made his last game in the league better than any other. Kobe made his way out of the league and won an Academy Award not long after retiring. The entire time, Bryant’s competitiveness was shown. Before and after every game, the loving and caring husband and father was displayed as well. Kobe was a mentor to many players in the league and we have that to look at when players try to emulate the Mamba Mentality.
The player Kobe influenced the most was a young player he knew since birth--his daughter Gianna. Gianna was the reason Kobe got back into the game of basketball after retiring, and she not only had the Mamba Mentality, but other possessed the gene as well. Gianna and Kobe will be missed, and their presence will forever be a blessing to all that had the chance to encounter or watch them.
The Pacers lost their home opener on Wednesday night to the Detroit Pistons. It was a close game, as the final margin was 119-110. However, there were some concerns that I had before the start of the season that popped up in Wednesday’s game.
For starters, Andre Drummond completely pantsed the Pacers big men:
Drummond finished the game with 32 points, 23 rebounds, three steals, and four blocks. He was uber physical with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis all game, using his physicality to shove that pair from under the basket for the whole of the game. I have to say, Drummond also seemed to have paint defense on lockdown, better than his reputation would have it seem.
The defense also really struggled in this game, allowing the Pistons to make 11 of their 24 attempts from beyond the arc and to get to the line 33 times. Drummond, a noted poor free throw shooter, made 8 eight of his ten foul shots, while Derrick Rose, a player not known for his proclivity for drawing fouls, made it to the line seven times himself.
Here are some examples of Detroit getting wide open shots:
Here, Doug McDermott gives Luke Kennard so much space that Kennard is able to pump fake McDermott out of his shoes, and drains the three.
Even though the Pistons missed on this play, the fact that the Pacers were scrambling is a bad sign in itself. The ball swings effectively around the perimeter, and the Pistons are in an excellent position to get penetration on more than just that play.
Another miss, but the three was very open and Markieff Morris should have converted this try. The Pistons ran picks involving both Sabonis and Turner, and this was my main area of concern going into the season. Sabonis is on the elbow, and Morris gets an open elbow three from the other side of the court.
In crunch time, the Pacers allow penetration from Rose, which they appear to have contained. Rose goes up for his signature jump pass, however, and he finds his old Chicago teammate Tony Snell with about ten feet of space, wide open. He understandably drains the shot straight away.
So allow me to explain: a Spain pick and roll is when there seems to be a traditional pick and roll, but then another player screens the screener’s defender. The Pistons ran this play to perfection: Kennard screens Turner, who is guarding the main pick and roll, but Kennard’s man Edmond Sumner is containing Rose after the pick is set. Kennard takes advantage of the defense’s confusion to splash his fifth three pointer of the night. To say the 3-point defense was the only issue would be ignoring issues that were had on that end.
Rose was just playing with Turner in this game. He flambeed him on defense and made him look ridiculous. To me, Rose is still a top notch scorer.
Here is Rose doing it to Turner again, with him coming off a double pindown and tricking Turner by going up for the floater.
Drummond gets behind Sabonis and catches an easy lob. Offensively, there were some challenges as well:
I don't even know what is going on in this play. Turner in this play is the embodiment of “when you try your best but you don’t succeed.”
I am not sure if Jeremy Lamb is trying to draw a foul, or if he is trying to finish the layup. In any case, he fails in both respects because it was just a terrible looking shot. I have my doubts about Lamb as a scorer, but I will get to promising things I saw from him in a bit.
Probably the biggest gut punch from crunchtime: Sabonis has a wide open three, and just air mailed it. He needs to at least hit rim, because they were only down five at the time, but it felt like the wind came out of the sails of the Pacers attack.
Sabonis and Turner actually played well together in this game on offense. Turner finished with 25 points and nine boards, while Sabonis had 27 points with 13 boards. Sabonis brought some much needed rebounding to the starting five, and Turner’s rim protection was a key component in keeping the game close.
To me the biggest plus from the game was Malcolm Brogdon. He finished with 22 points, 11 assists, and 11 free throw attempts. He calmed all my doubts about him being able to run the Pacers offense, and helped the offense run smoothly.
These two plays are plays I would run for Lamb. I like him coming off screens for open mid-range jump shots, and would actually like Sabonis to set screens for him. Additionally, Brogdon sets him up perfectly.
Brogdon throws a pass I did not know he was capable of making. When I saw this, I knew he would be okay playing point guard.
Brogdon shows off his impressive perimeter defense on this possession.
This was a great way for Brogdon to leverage the pick and roll to get a floater, and he was good running pick and roll this whole game. All in all, this season will be up and down for the Pacers. They are going to struggle to adapt to their defensive scheme, and they will need to figure out Sabonis and Turner on that end. It is early though, and I believe they can figure it out.
IUPUI men’s basketball coach Jason Gardner, who was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated Monday morning, resigned on Tuesday.
Gardner was arrested in Hamilton Country early Monday morning. On Tuesday, IUPUI stated that Gardner and the university “have mutually agreed to part ways” following the incident.
Byron Rimm II, who previously served as an assistant on Gardner’s staff as well as an assistant at UC Riverside, has been named interim head coach for the 2019-2020 season.
According to the Fishers Police Department, Gardner was found asleep at the wheel at the intersection of Cumberland Road and Bruddy Drive around 4:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Authorities were forced to enter the car and take it out of gear after failing to wake Gardner up.
Gardner eventually woke up and identified himself to police. Police say Gardner stumbled out of the vehicle and failed every field sobriety test given to him. Alcohol was also allegedly smelled on Gardner’s breath.
Gardner was taken into custody and transported to Hamilton County Jail. Results from a blood toxicology test are still pending.
In every free agency period, you have your winners and you have your losers. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to tell how teams fared right off the bat.
Take this year’s free agency, less than one day old: the 76ers lost Jimmy Butler to the Heat, but still won the day. Anytime you can add somebody who’s plagued your team over and over again, you do it. General Manager Elton Brand did just that when he signed Al Horford, perhaps the only center in the league who had an answer for the powerhouse Joel Embiid.
The big winner today, though, is unmistakable. The Brooklyn Nets completely took over New York basketball, ripping every Knicks fan’s heart out by landing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and seemingly won the once atrocious-looking Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade from 2013.
Amazing. Simply. Amazing.
No, Kevin Durant won't play next year. But it’s Kevin Durant, ladies and gentlemen. If he can walk and breathe, you give the man a max contract. It’s really that simple. Kyrie, on the other hand, ruined a locker room last year. But keep this in mind: he’s not the alpha dog anymore. He won’t have the say-so that he did in Boston.
While big names were on the move, however, Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard did what he does best--sit back and live within your means.
Pacers fans know it all too well: big time free agents are, to put it nicely, not likely to come here. In my lifetime, the biggest name Indy has landed might actually be Monta Ellis. This year, though, Pritchard got the most out of what he could do.
Even before free agency started, I liked the front office’s game plan after the trade for TJ Warren from Phoenix. Warren might seem like a “good stats, bad team” player, but he could easily supply around 15 points for a playoff team and would be more than serviceable come the postseason. Yesterday, Pritchard made a similar move when he signed Jeremy Lamb from the Hornets (who have quickly turned into a small market version of the Knicks). Lamb put up a career-best 15.3 points per game last season as second fiddle to Kemba Walker. He'll likely assume the scoring responsibilities left by Bojan Bogdanovic, now on the Utah Jazz.
The big splash for the blue and gold, however, is landing Malcolm Brogdon from the Bucks. No, he’s not a marquee free agent, but he’s a guy Milwaukee sorely missed in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. I don’t think they could’ve knocked off the eventual champs, but Brogdon’s steadying presence and smart play might have been enough to push it to seven games.
Brogdon was a 50-40-90 guy this past season, the ultimate stat for shooters and a club that includes only eight different players in history (Larry Bird, Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Price, and Brogdon). He doesn’t turn the ball over hardly at all, and when you consider the fact that Darren Collison retired and Cory Joseph signed with Sacramento, Brogdon will definitely suffice and perhaps even be an improvement on the perimeter. He’ll also be a good mentor for Aaron Holiday off the bench.
When Oladipo returns at some point next season, the Pacers will be looking at a lineup something like this: Oladipo, Brogdon, Lamb, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner. A playoff team? Absolutely.
A contender? Getting there.
There I am, sitting in my living room as Wesley Matthews is about to inbound the ball for a potential game-tying shot. I’m feeling good about the Pacers’ chances, even though the game slipped away from them in the fourth quarter.
Instead of tossing it into Bojan Bogdanovic, Matthews decided to launch the ball into the stands to one lucky Celtics fan. Just like that, the game was over.
Most of the time, returning home in a playoff series is a reason for hope, especially with a chance to tie the series in front of your raucous fans. This time, however, it feels different.
The Pacers had their chance, in both Game 1 and Game 2. The Celtics clearly weren’t playing their best basketball (they haven’t been for most of the season), but the Pacers put themselves in a hole late in both games. In the opening contest, it was scoring only eight points in the third quarter. Wednesday night? Only twelve in the fourth, while Boston put up 31 to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Even though they blew two playoff games in a row, there’s no reason to doubt that the Pacers will be able to stretch this series to six games or so. No one will blame them for the loss (losing your best player midway through the season will give you a pass), but it will still hurt, especially after seeing them lose control in the closing quarter.
Myles Turner has been a complete no-show in these two games. Yes, he’s made some nice defensive recoveries and had a couple big blocks, but it was too little, too late. Myles is reverting back to his performance against Cleveland in last year’s postseason, where he averaged 12.4 points and 5.5 rebounds against LeBron and company. This time around, Turner’s only contributing 6.5 points and 5.5 boards against the Celtics. I get that Al Horford is a great defender, but just think: if Myles scores 16 points, the Pacers win Game 2.
Tonight, I think the Pacers will take Game 3. It’ll be good to get back in front of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse faithful and feel that playoff atmosphere again. Whether or not Indy can extend their season even further remains to be seen.
Can Marcus Smart swing a playoff series? No. Does he scare opposing defenses? No. But will the Celtics feel his absence in the first round against the Pacers?
Smart is the type of player that every team would love to have. He’s one of those guys with an irrational confidence and a pesky defensive presence that can influence the momentum of the game. He would pick up a couple of hustle fouls just to pump the team up.
Smart’s oblique injury is a pleasant surprise for the Pacers, who have historically struggled with players like him. He’s without a doubt the Celtics’ best perimeter defender, if not their best overall defender, and is not afraid to throw his body around in the paint. If Oladipo was healthy, Smart would have been tasked with stopping him.
Smart’s averaging close to two steals per game and is cashing in on 36.4% of his threes. Last year, he was a key cog in the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they came within a stone’s throw of the Finals.
So, why do the Pacers benefit from Smart’s absence? For one, it’ll make it easier for Darren Collison and Cory Joseph to dish it off to the open man, as Smart’s 6-9 wingspan often goes overlooked. His relentless pursuit of boards will be missed since Smart is far and away their most persistent rebounder. Guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will need to establish a low post presence more often, especially with elite rebounding forwards like Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young crashing the glass.
At times this season, Smart had been the lone spark plug on a Celtics squad that had often found itself going through the motions. It’s hard to forget how Smart’s return to their first round series against the Bucks last season really shifted the defensive tide in Boston’s favor. His defense on Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon helped the Celts take a 3-2 lead and eventually take the series.
Given how the Pacers played during the last week of the season, I think their chances of knocking off Boston have taken a turn for the worse. In short, any little bit helps. Smart’s injury, while it not seem too significant, could end up being that turning point. I still think the Celtics will move on the second round, but Nate McMillan and company will push them to the brink.
It’s Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. Jayson Tatum just baptized LeBron James, the roof of the TD Garden is about to blow, and Brad Stevens is flexing a Jimmy Neutron-esque IQ.
The Boston Celtics came within one game of the NBA Finals with a 20-year-old rookie as their best player, Terry Rozier as their starting point guard, and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward on the sidelines. The C’s were poised to become the next dynasty, surely the next Eastern powerhouse with King James in LA.
A little less than one year later, Boston’s staring at the fifth seed in the conference, their chemistry is nonexistent, Marcus Smart is still shooting threes, and they’re nowhere near their preseason over/under win total of 67. If I would’ve told you that the Bucks would be conclusively better than Boston and the Pacers would have home-court over them without Victor Oladipo, you would’ve laughed in my face.
At this point, it’s almost certain that the Pacers and Celtics will square off in the first round. On paper, it shouldn’t be close: Darren Collison vs Kyrie? Bojan Bogdanovic vs Tatum? No Oladipo? On to the next one, you might think.
Think again, my friends. If you’re a Pacers fan, you should want the Celtics in the first round. Indy’s that kind of team that just doesn’t care, and I mean that as a compliment. They don’t care who scores, they don’t care who brings the ball up, they don’t care about padding the stat sheet. They only care about getting the job done.
Boston, on the other hand, has been in limbo all year. Even with a guy like Kyrie Irving on the roster, it’s unclear who the alpha male is on the Celtics. Two reasons they were almost able to make the Finals last season were team play and excellent defense. Would Irving have put them over the top against Cleveland? Probably. But everybody bought in, everybody was on board, and everybody just wanted to win. It didn’t matter who scored, who had the ball at the end of the night, it just didn’t matter.
Tatum has hit the sophomore wall like a DeLorean at 88 mph. Believe me, he’s wishing he could go back in time right now, especially with how his ball-handling and free throw attempts have been glaringly absent this year. Al Horford, who was Boston’s MVP last season, has been hindered by injuries in recent weeks. If he’s not 100% come playoff time, Domas Sabonis is going to feast like he’s at a Chinese buffet.
I don’t mean to bash Boston and the hometown guys in Stevens and Hayward, but they just haven’t been what they were supposed to be. At this moment, right now, on March 29, the Pacers should want the Celtics in Round 1. Would I bet my life on winning the series? No. But I just can’t ignore the similarities between the ‘19 Pacers and the ‘18 Celtics. Teamwork will prevail.
Bring ‘em on, I say. Bring ‘em on.
You might not realize it, but the Indiana Pacers have been one of the most stable organizations over the past 20 years when it comes to head coaches.
In the 22 year span from 1997 to 2019, the Pacers have only had six coaches. That's pretty impressive. In light of Nate McMillan's outstanding job last season (still can't believe he wasn't a Coach of the Year nominee) and what he’s done without Vic this year, I've decided to rank all six Pacers coaches, from Larry Bird to McMillan.
Here we go.
6) Jim O'Brien
Pacers tenure: 2007-2011
Overall record with Pacers: 121-169
Playoff appearances: 0
Best regular season record with Pacers: 36-46 (twice, '07-'08 and '08-'09)
This was a pretty easy choice. Want to know why?
No playoff appearances.
Taking over for Rick Carlisle, the hiring of O'Brien was seen as a downgrade amongst Pacers fans. Their skepticism became a reality in O'Brien's first season as the Pacers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
However, O'Brien did come close to a playoff berth in 2007-08. The Pacers finished one game back of the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Get this: they finished ten games under .500, so it wasn't like they needed to win 50 games to have a shot. During O'Brien's tenure, the Eastern Conference was very top-heavy, with the big boys being the Pierce/Garnett/Allen Celtics, LeBron's Cavs, Billups’ Pistons, and the Dwight Howard Orlando Magic.
After those four teams, the other seeds were pretty much up for grabs. O'Brien was rolling out a lineup of Jamaal Tinsley, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, and Jermaine O'Neal until O'Neal was dealt to the Raptors. By 2007 standards, that's pretty respectable.
The following season, '08-'09, the Pacers again finished 36-46. This time, they finished three games back of a playoff spot, even with the same record.
When the '09-'10 season came around, fans were looking forward to possibly making a run to the playoffs. Tinsley had finally been traded away, Granger was coming off a year where he averaged 25.8 points per game (named Most Improved Player in 2009), and Murphy was a double-double machine.
But it wasn't meant to be. The Pacers finished 32-50 that season and Pacers fans were starting to call for O'Brien's job. GM Larry Bird decided to run it back one more year, and O'Brien retained his coaching status for the 2010-11 season.
Following a blowout loss to the Bulls on January 29, 2011, O'Brien was fired by Bird and replaced by Frank Vogel. It turned out to be for the best as Vogel guided the Pacers to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. O'Brien is the only guy on this list to have been fired mid-season.
Jim O'Brien is currently an assistant for the 76ers. As Pacers fans can tell you, that's probably where he belongs.
5) Isiah Thomas
Pacers tenure: 2000-2003
Overall record with Pacers: 131-115
Playoff appearances: 3
Playoff finishes: '01 First Round (lost to 76ers 3-1), '02 First Round (lost to Nets 3-2), '03 First Round (lost to Celtics 4-2)
Best regular season record with Pacers: 48-34 ('02-'03)
Larry Bird's closest friend.
After Larry Legend retired in 2000, Isiah was named as his replacement for the 2000-01 season. The only improvement that Isiah could've made was to win it all, as Bird had taken the Pacers to the Finals the year prior.
The hire was praised by Indiana natives. Isiah's status as an IU icon was and still is unbreakable.
His status as a Pacers coach is a different story.
In 2000-01, Isiah's first season as head coach, the Pacers finished 41-41 but managed to clinch the eighth seed in the playoffs. However, they lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champions, Allen Iverson's 76ers, in four games (the first round used to be best-of-five).
In '01-'02, the Pacers improved by one game and finished 42-40 and again clinched the eighth seed. They suffered the same fate in the postseason, however, this time falling to Jason Kidd and the Nets (who would also go on to win the East). Despite late game heroics from Reggie Miller in Game 5, the Pacers were outmatched, and fell in the deciding game.
Hopes were high heading into the '02-'03 season as the Pacers had come so close to advancing the year before. It proved to be Isiah's best season in Indy, finishing with a 48-34 record and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. It was a monster season for Jermaine O'Neal, who averaged 20.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks. Behind O'Neal and Reggie, the Pacers were poised to be in the Conference Finals.
Instead, they lost to the sixth-seeded Celtics, led by Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, and, oddly enough, future Pacers coach Jim O'Brien.
When Larry Bird was introduced as the Pacers' GM following the season, his first order of business was to fire Isiah. He'd go on to coach the Knicks, and even college ball with Florida International. Neither proved to be his forte, as he's now an analyst for NBA TV.
4) Nate McMillan
Pacers tenure: 2016-present
Overall record with Pacers: 90-74
Playoff appearances: 2
Playoff finishes: '16 First Round (lost to Cavaliers 4-0), '17 First Round (lost to Cavaliers 4-3)
Best regular season record with Pacers: 48-34 ('17-'18)
I must admit, I was a little upset when Frank Vogel was let go after the 2015-16 season. I was even more confused when McMillan was retained following his first season as head coach. I wanted him gone.
I can see now that I was wrong. Dead wrong.
In his first season, the Pacers had the Conference Finals on their minds after some big-time moves in the 2016 offseason. They traded for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young and signed Al Jefferson as a free agent. With Teague and Thad in a lineup with Paul George, Monta Ellis, and Myles Turner, an NBA title didn’t seem far fetched.
I can see now that I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Thanks in part to George's constant complaining (not to mention having his sights set on the Lakers) and Ellis's incompetent play, the Pacers stumbled to a 42-40 record and the seventh seed in the East. Matching up against the Cavs, the Pacers surprised a lot of people in Game 1 and even had a chance to win in the final minutes.
We all know what happened. CJ Miles missed a wide-open look and the Pacers lost. After the game, George whined about not getting the last shot. In Game 3, after the Pacers blew a 25-point lead, George got his chance at the last shot and bricked it off the backboard. He didn't even hit rim. Classic.
When George was traded in the 2017 offseason for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, I liked the trade but didn't know if the Pacers would be in playoff discussions.
Thanks to Nate's magnificent coaching job and Victor's All-Star season, the Pacers finished 48-34 and clinched the fifth seed. Again matching up with Cleveland, the Pacers dominated in Game 1 as Nate exploited the Cavs' poor interior defense by having Victor penetrate the lane every chance he got.
After Game 1, the refs made their presence known and LeBron and the Cavs won in seven games. However, Nate did have a chance to help his team win the game in Game 5. LeBron caught the inbounds pass and was immediately guarded by Thad. LeBron hit the shot and won the game.
It turned out that the Pacers had a timeout and a foul to give. Could've used either one, if not both.
But let's not forget that Oladipo's layup before LeBron's shot was goaltended, and the refs didn't even bother to review it.
Nate can still move up on this list. After some quality moves this offseason, the Pacers will probably end up in the Conference Finals, and ESPN will probably act like it's some kind of miracle.
Either way, give it up for Nate.
3) Rick Carlisle
Pacers tenure: 2003-2007
Overall record with Pacers: 181-147
Playoff appearances: 3
Playoff finishes: '04 Conference Finals (lost to Pistons 4-2), '05 Second Round (lost to Pistons 4-2), '06 First Round (lost to Nets 4-2)
Best regular season record with Pacers: 61-21 ('03-'04, best record in franchise history)
There's only one reason that Rick Carlisle isn't number one on this list.
Carlisle's best player turned out to be his worst nightmare, and the Pacers-Pistons brawl ended up costing the Pacers a ring. There isn't a doubt in my mind.
Hired by Bird to replace Isiah Thomas in 2003, the Pacers took off under Carlisle's guidance. Led by Miller, O'Neal, Artest, and Tinsley, the Pacers finished with a franchise-record 61 wins and clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They ended up running into the Billups/Rip Hamilton/Rasheed and Ben Wallace Pistons (who would go on to win the title), and lost in the Conference Finals.
In that season, Carlisle helped O'Neal and Artest realize their potentials. O'Neal was voted to the All-NBA Second Team as well as the All-Star game, while Artest was voted to the All-Star game, the All-NBA Third Team, and named Defensive Player of the Year.
The following season, it was championship or bust for the Pacers. Going into the brawl game, the Pacers were the favorite to come out of the East after starting the season hot. Artest was averaging 24.6 points and 6.4 rebounds before he went into the crowd in Detroit to pursue a fight.
After the suspensions were handed out, Carlisle was left without his best player (Artest) as well as O'Neal for a good length of time. Without Artest, the title hopes went out the window and the Pacers ended up finishing with a 44-38 record (pretty good, all things considered).
In the playoffs, the Pacers upset the third-seeded Celtics in the first round but fell again to the Pistons in the second round.
The rest of Carlisle's Pacers career was pretty boring. They made the playoffs one more time in 2006, but lost in the first round. In 2007, they missed out on the postseason and Carlisle was let go.
Honestly, in terms of pure basketball knowledge and coaching ability, Rick Carlisle might be the best coach in Pacers history.
He went on to the Mavericks in 2008 and ended up winning a title in 2011. He's under contract with Dallas through 2020.
2) Frank Vogel
Pacers tenure: 2011-2016
Overall record with Pacers: 250-181
Playoff appearances: 5
Playoff finishes: '11 First Round (lost to Bulls 4-1), '12 Second Round (lost to Heat 4-2), '13 Conference Finals (lost to Heat 4-3), '14 Conference Finals (lost to Heat 4-2), '16 First Round (lost to Raptors 4-3)
Best regular season record with Pacers: 56-26 ('13-'14)
I love Frank Vogel.
He brought the Pacers within one game of the NBA Finals and was a couple of fortuitous bounces away from getting them there. The defense was always top-of-the-line under his guidance.
But he had the misfortune of leading some of the best Pacers teams ever against one of the best players ever: LeBron James.
When Vogel took over for Jim O'Brien in 2011, the Pacers took off and clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2006. Although they lost to the Derrick Rose-led Bulls, the future was bright for the Pacers.
In the '11-'12 season, Vogel led the Pacers to 42 wins in the lockout-shortened 66 game season. It was good enough for the third seed in the Eastern Conference and the Pacers ended up playing the Heat in the second round. Despite taking a 2-1 lead and having Game 4 under control most of the way, the Pacers lost to Miami in six games (they would go on to win the title).
It was in '12-'13, however, that the Pacers put the NBA on notice. With their stifling defense, a budding star in Paul George, and consistent/tough play from David West (one of my all-time favorites), the Pacers won 49 games and advanced all the way to the Conference Finals.
The 2013 Conference Finals still haunt me (Game 1 in particular). After George hit an unreal three-pointer to force overtime, LeBron hit a pretty easy layup to win the game. Vogel was at fault because he had Roy Hibbert take a seat on the bench which virtually left the lane wide open for James to drive in. It was one of two times in my sports fan life that I dropped to my knees in disbelief (the other being Rajai Davis's home run in Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubbies).
It turned out to be the closest the Pacers ever came to the Finals in Vogel’s tenure as they fell to the Heat in seven games.
The following season, the Pacers clinched home court advantage throughout the East playoffs but locker room problems torched any title hopes.
The Pacers barely made it past the first round, beating the Hawks in seven, and got past the Wizards in Round 2, but not very convincingly. Enter the Heat, who tied the series at 1 after the Pacers took Game 1 in Indy. The Heat took a 3-1 lead, and won the series in six. Sad.
In the 2014 offseason, George broke his leg, Lance Stephenson departed for the Hornets, and the season turned out to be a lost one for the Pacers, who missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010. It was a great coaching job by Vogel, though, as the Pacers only missed the playoffs by one game despite playing without George for most of the year.
In his final season, Vogel led the Pacers back to the postseason but fell to Toronto. Bird decided to fire Vogel and ended up promoting Nate McMillan to head coach (so far so good).
Vogel got a head coaching job with the Magic, but was fired last offseason.
1) Larry Bird
Pacers tenure: 1997-2000
Overall record with Pacers: 147-67
Playoff appearances: 3
Playoff finishes: '98 Conference Finals (lost to Bulls 4-3), '99 Conference Finals (lost to Knicks 4-2), '00 NBA Finals (lost to Lakers 4-2)
Best regular season record with Pacers: 58-24 ('97-'98)
When he took the job, Bird said that he'd only coach for three seasons, and he kept his promise.
When it was all said and done, he'd led the Pacers to the Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons, culminating in the Pacers' only Finals appearance in 2000. It makes you wonder what could've happened if he had decided to stay on.
In the '98 playoffs, the Pacers advanced to the Conference Finals and came within one game of the NBA Finals. Against Jordan's Bulls (which turned out to be Chicago's final title run), the Pacers pushed Air Jordan to the limit, but ultimately fell in seven games. Had they gotten past the Bulls, I would've liked their chances against Utah in the Finals.
In the lockout-shortened '98-'99 season, which featured only 50 games, Bird led the Pacers to 33 wins. However, they fell to the Knicks in the Conference Finals.
It was in the '99-'00 season, however, that Reggie's Pacers finally took the next step. After getting revenge on New York in the Conference Finals, the Pacers made it to the Finals for the first (and to date, the only) time in franchise history.
Facing off against the Lakers, led by Kobe and Shaq and coached by Phil Jackson, the Pacers were seen as underdogs but came very close to stealing Game 4 and tying the series at two games apiece. They fell to the Lakers in six, becoming the first victims in the Lakers' three-peat from 2000 to 2002.
Bird resigned as coach following the Finals. He returned a few seasons later as GM and eventually became President of Basketball Operations.
He's the only man in NBA history to be named MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year, winning the latter two awards with the Pacers.
There aren’t many coaches who’ve had to deal with what Nate McMillan has this season. Usually, if your best player goes down, you might just pack it in and say “well, on to next year.”
But not Nate.
Since Victor Oladipo was lost for the season, McMillan has guided the Pacers to a 22-11 record while maintaining the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Even with Philadelphia and Boston right on their heels, McMillan and the Pacers have kept them at bay with textbook teamwork.
It certainly helps when Bojan Bogdanovic decides to go on the best stretch of his career. Bogey’s averaging 17.7 points per game, capitalized by 16 games with at least 20 points. Even more impressive: Bogdanovic has put up 23.5 per game since Oladipo’s exit (highlighted by a Pacers career-high 37 points against Minnesota last week).
For me, McMillan deserves all the credit here. He’s made Bogdanovic the main scoring option for Indy which makes total sense. He was the second option when Victor was healthy and now he’s seamlessly stepped into the go-to role. Now that Tyreke Evans is finding his bearings with the second unit thanks to the addition of Wes Matthews, it seems entirely possible that McMillan and the Pacers will maintain the third spot in the East.
Logically, Nate should be the front-runner for the Coach of the Year award. I don’t really see a reason why he shouldn’t be. The Pacers have never gotten the spotlight that some other teams get, but this just can’t go unnoticed.
Of course, McMillan’s not the only one who should be in the conversation. Let’s run through some other worthy candidates.
Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
There’s really no explanation needed here. If it wasn’t for Bud, the Coach of the Year award would probably be Nate’s to lose.
Budenholzer has designed the Bucks’ game-plan completely around Giannis Antetokounmpo, and why wouldn’t he? We all know about Khris Middleton, a guy who can go and get 20 points on any given night, but let’s not forget about all the shooters that Giannis is surrounded by. Budenholzer has put Malcolm Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, and Ersan Ilyasova out there, all of whom complement Giannis perfectly.
We knew Budenholzer was a good coach during his days with the Hawks, but he’s taken it to a different level with the Bucks.
Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn Nets
If I would’ve told you before the season that the Brooklyn Nets would be a playoff team, you would have laughed in my face.
What Atkinson has done with this up-and-coming Nets squad is pretty special. Early in the year, he handed Caris LeVert the keys to the car and was on his way to the Most Improved Player award before a leg injury sidelined him. In his stead, Atkinson turned to D’Angelo Russell, who played so well he was named to his first All-Star game.
Atkinson has helped make Russell one of the most potent scoring threats in the Eastern Conference. It’s gotten to the point that D’Angelo is expected to push 30 points every night. During his Lakers days, you could see the talent under the surface (and certainly what made him the #2 pick in the 2015 draft), but he could never quite put the pieces together. Now, with Atkinson, he’s found his groove and is about to lead Brooklyn to its first playoff berth since 2015.
Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
After two consecutive late-season heartbreaks, Mike Malone has finally gotten the Nuggets over the hump.
Malone has morphed Nikola Jokic into a top 5 MVP candidate, molded Jamal Murray into Denver’s point guard of the future, and made Gary Harris one of the most dangerous sixth men in the league. The Nuggets have been hanging around the top of the Western Conference standings for most of the season and they could very well end up with the top seed.
You could see that Malone had solid coaching chops during his tenure with Sacramento. Remember, it was under his watch that DeMarcus Cousins became the force he is today. Now, he’s done it again with Jokic.
Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
Nick Nurse isn’t going to win Coach of the Year, but I thought I should mention him here.
After Masai Ujiri wheeled and dealed this summer for Kawhi Leonard, he replaced Dwane Casey with Nurse. So far, all Nurse has done is make Ujiri look like a genius, making the Raptors a serious contender in the process.
Like I said, he's not going to win, but he should be mentioned.
If I had to bet, I’d say that Budenholzer will take home the award. Still, I’d vote for Nate if I could. Getting to see what he’s been able to do first-hand has really been awesome, and I hope that the voters can see it as well.
Believe it or not, the Indiana Pacers haven’t shifted in the standings since Victor Oladipo’s injury.
The Pacers are one of only six teams in the NBA with 40 or more wins, a group that includes the Bucks, Raptors, Warriors, 76ers, and Nuggets. That is some stellar company for a team that is lacking its superstar.
Now, is it possible to maintain this pace all the way through the season’s end? Logically, probably not. At some point, Oladipo’s absence will become more tangible than it is right now. Yeah, it’s a nice feel-good moment for Pacers fans and a typical response from this brotherhood of a team, but it feels like a dip in the Eastern Conference hierarchy is coming.
Indy’s just above the 76ers in the standings, a team who’s pretty much handled the blue and gold this season (winning two of the three meetings). The Celtics are knocking on the door as well, just a couple games behind their division rivals in Philly.
Still, it’s never too early to think about possible playoff scenarios. Regardless of whether or not the Pacers move around in the rankings, they’ll put up a fight against any team out there. Here’s some of the intriguing matchups that Nate McMillan’s squad might have to face:
1) Brooklyn Nets
If the season ended today, Indy would be squaring off against an up and coming Brooklyn squad. The Nets are one of those teams that don’t really have an alpha dog. Sure, D’Angelo Russell is an All-Star and he’s in the midst of a breakout season (and making the Lakers look bad in the process). However, Kenny Atkinson’s lineup is tough, physical, and has a similar team-first mentality like Indiana.
The thing about the Nets that sticks out is that they match up really well with the Pacers. Jarrett Allen is more than capable of handling both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Allen is deadly in the pick-and-roll game with Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie and reminds me a little of how Houston uses Clint Capela. Then there is Caris LeVert, who was a front-runner for Most Improved Player before a leg injury sidelined him for a couple of months. LeVert can bring the ball up and defend multiple positions, so Bojan Bogdanovic and Wes Matthews could have their hands full with this guy. (A fun fact about Caris: the Pacers drafted him in 2016, but was traded to Brooklyn for Thaddeus Young. Worked out for both sides, I’d say.)
I think the Pacers would come out on top here, but it’s not a stretch to say that Brooklyn would push it to seven games.
2) Boston Celtics
Say Indy gets leapfrogged by Philly in the next month or so. It would work out for the Sixers, who’ve always had a problem with Boston in the Embiid/Simmons era. For the Pacers, though, it could be an uphill battle.
The Celtics’ chemistry has been out of whack for most of the year. They’re right there with the Lakers for the title of “Most Disappointing Team” of 2019. Gordon Hayward hasn’t been able to get back to his old ways, which is totally understandable, but when Brad Stevens moved him to the second unit, Boston’s fortunes turned a little bit.
The last few weeks, however, the C’s have struggled. Some low points have come and gone, including a loss to the tanking Bulls and a blowout loss to Kawhi and the Raptors this past Tuesday. If the Celtics stumble into the playoffs as they’re playing right now, I love Indy’s chances, especially with home court advantage.
Then, there’s the possibility that Brad Stevens kicks it into another gear and puts his coaching abilities to the test. If the Celtics put together some momentum towards the end of the season, McMillan could be in for a tough series.
3) Philadelphia 76ers
I’m not a big believer in the Sixers’ status as a title contender, but they are still a team that the Pacers wouldn’t want to meet in the first round.
The Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris trades pretty much gutted Philly’s already questionable bench, even though it bolstered their starting five. I can see Sabonis having problems with Embiid’s backup, Boban Marjanovic, but no other bench players stand out to me on the Sixers.
The big thing here is Embiid. Save for Al Horford, there’s nobody in the league that can guard him, but there’s really nobody on the Pacers that can. Turner has always had problems with bigger, more built centers in the middle.
The Pacers could surprise some people in the playoffs, but Philly is the team they’ll want to avoid if they can. Brooklyn would be a grind and Boston could go either way, but Pacers fans should feel pretty confident regardless of who they draw in the tournament.
A good rule of thumb for first place teams is to avoid making any unnecessary roster moves.
Almost five years ago today, the Pacers broke that rule.
Let me take you back to the 2013-14 season. If you’re a Pacers fan, you were flying high. Fresh off of pushing the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, it seemed like Frank Vogel’s squad was poised to knock off the champs with Roy Hibbert’s rim protection, David West’s take-no-prisoners mentality, Paul George’s rise to stardom, and Lance Stephenson’s exciting yet unpredictable play.
On the bench was CJ Watson, a respectable backup point guard to George Hill. Then there was Luis Scola, whose mid-range jumper was absolutely knockdown. The real gem of the second unit, however, was Danny Granger.
When Jermaine O’Neal was dealt to the Raptors in 2008, Granger became the Pacers’ franchise player. He became one of the best scoring threats in the NBA, averaging about 22 points per game from 2007 to 2012. He helped guide the Pacers back to the playoffs in 2011, ending a five year drought. Granger was poised to lead a promising Indy team for years to come.
Then, in 2012, the injuries started piling up for Granger. Paul George took advantage, stepping into Danny’s role seamlessly, apexing with the seven game duel against Miami. When he returned for the 2013-14 season, Granger was willing to come off the bench for a Pacers team that was looking to make a run to the Finals.
Granger’s scoring off the bench was exactly what the Pacers were lacking the year before. Too often in the ‘13 Conference Finals, the bench unit couldn’t score with the Heat’s. With Danny back in ‘14, there was no reason to believe that the Pacers wouldn’t take down LeBron and Miami.
After bursting out of the gates early (starting off with a 16-1 record), the Pacers entered the All-Star break strong. Then, Larry Bird and company decided to break the rule--they made a totally nonsensical move. Danny Granger was shipped off to Philly for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen.
I wasn’t a fan of the deal at the time. Yeah, it made sense (Granger’s contract was expiring, Turner was the best player on the Sixers), but I couldn’t understand why Indy would give up Granger’s points off the bench. He was only averaging about 9 points a game, but was capable of going for 20 on any given night. Alongside David West, Danny was also a veteran presence in an otherwise young locker room.
Evan Turner’s stint in Indy was nothing short of a train wreck. He never fit in to the system, got into fights at practice, and eventually became unplayable come playoff time. The Pacers totally imploded down the stretch (low-lighted by blowout losses to the Bobcats and Cavaliers), but still managed to lock up the top seed in the East.
Alas, it wasn’t the same team once Granger was shipped away. The defense slipped, the chemistry was off, and the 16-1 Pacers squad from just a couple months before was nowhere to be seen. Indy barely scraped by the Hawks in the first round, downed a tough Wizards team in the semi-finals, but were downed by the Heat in a six game Conference Finals.
Looking back five years later, this probably cost the Pacers a trip to the NBA Finals. They were by far the best team in the East until the Granger trade and immediately got worse once he was gone. It’s hard to say they would’ve knocked off the Spurs in the championship round (Tim Duncan and company were on a mission that year), but they would’ve put up a better fight than Miami did.
The Granger trade was unnecessary, and the implosion that followed was unforgivable.
If you’re a fan of the Blue and Gold, Wednesday’s loss to the Bucks was a tough one to take.
It was one of those games that was back-and-forth throughout, but it came down to the Pacers needing a big play to get over the hump. No problem: just pop it out to Vic…..oh, wait.
The Milwaukee game was the first time the Pacers have really missed Oladipo in crunch time. One of the clutchest players in the league, Victor could always be relied on when it mattered most--just look at the countless game-winners in his brief Pacers tenure for proof. Even though guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young are dependable every night, it was Vic who could snatch games away from the opponent.
During their six-game win streak over the past couple of weeks, Indy handled every team with relative ease. Not counting the Feb. 4 matchup against the Pelicans--which was a grinder (a 109-107 Pacers win), Nate McMillan’s squad won by an average of almost 20 points during the streak.
While the Bucks game might sting a little, it told me one thing: the Pacers can still make it interesting against the top teams in the East. Take a look back at the game Victor went down; they were able to down Toronto (my pick to represent the East in the Finals) even after their best player was carted off. Now, I know the injury gave them some extra motivation that they probably wouldn’t have had in any other game, but it’s still reassuring.
Milwaukee is currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve got the best player in the conference (Giannis Antetokounmpo), one of the best second options in the league (Khris Middleton), and made one of the best moves of the trade deadline (Nikola Mirotic). It’s safe to say they’re going to make a deep playoff run, and the fact that the Pacers were able to hang with them and, at times, control the game, is encouraging to fans.
Eventually, though, you knew it would get to the point of having to foul once the clock started working against the Pacers. Antetokounmpo is unstoppable anyway, but when guys like Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe start hitting, it’s going to be a long night. The night was long for the Blue and Gold, but it almost resulted in a surprising win.
Games like this are what build confidence in a team come playoff time. Just knowing that they can hang with elite competition like the Bucks can sometimes be the deciding factor in a series. Would the Pacers knock off the Bucks in seven games? No. Still, they wouldn’t go down without a fight.
As usual, the Pacers flew relatively under-the-radar during NBA trade season, but their biggest addition came in the form of a free agent signing.
Just over a week ago, Wesley Matthews was dealt to the Knicks in one of the biggest trades of the season thus far. Matthews had his contract bought out by the Knicks a couple days later, and the Pacers jumped at the chance to grab him off the market.
Ever since Victor Oladipo went down, the Pacers have been lacking another reliable scorer to go along with Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis. In Matthews, Kevin Pritchard and company are getting just that, plus a little defense to go with it.
Not counting their bombarding of the Lakers on Tuesday night, the Pacers had been struggling from downtown. Darren Collison was the most consistent 3-point shooter on the team (about 42 percent this season), while Bogdanovic is the guy who can get hot at any time. With Wes, Nate McMillan has another wing who can get going from behind the arc to throw at opposing defenses. In his 3 ½ seasons with the Mavs, Matthews was a 37 percent shooter from 3-point range. If Doug McDermott can start heating up, he and Matthews will be a nice combo to roll out on the wings.
During his days with the Trail Blazers, Wes was known as a solid defender as well. He was a key part of Portland’s system and was often tasked with guarding primary scorers like DeMar DeRozan and James Harden. Head coach Terry Stotts used him as a textbook “3 and D” guy, similar to how Houston used Trevor Ariza these past few seasons. Matthews was also a vital part of the Portland offense, a reliable third option in the pecking order behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard.
Personally, I love the move for the Pacers. It came a little bit after Pritchard made a deal with Houston for Nik Stauskas, Wade Baldwin, and a couple of second rounders, only to cut Stauskas and Baldwin shortly after. That one was kind of a head-scratcher for me, but Pritchard made up for it with the Matthews pickup. I really feel like Wes will fit in seamlessly with Indy, especially if Tyreke Evans can start playing like he’s shown he’s capable of. I can see it already; Sabonis gets the dish from Tyreke, gets doubled, but kicks it out to Holiday, who then passes off to Wes for the trey. Beautiful.
In the wake of players like Markelle Fultz, Marc Gasol, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Mirotic moving on to different squads, the Matthews signing went a bit unnoticed. If you’re a Pacers fan, though, you noticed--and odds are, you’re loving it.
Let me just say this right off the bat: the Pacers are not getting Anthony Davis. There’s just no way.
Still, there’s a chance that Davis will end up in the East, a move that would most certainly shift the conference’s balance of power.
Following AD’s trade request to the Pelicans this past Monday, many were quick to predict a move to the Lakers. While the many “Davis to LA” connections would support that (same agent as LeBron, wants to play in a big city, wants to compete for rings), I think there’s still a good chance that Davis will land in the East, thus affecting the Pacers’ place in the standings.
Assuming New Orleans decides to pull the trigger and deal Davis before the Feb. 7 trade deadline, Eastern Conference powers like the Celtics, Raptors, and Bucks could be in the running for the big man. Even though the Knicks have been linked to the Davis trade talks, I just don’t see a path for New York to get him without offering a gold mine of draft picks (like Houston did with Jimmy Butler).
The buzz around Davis lately has reminded me of this past summer when Kawhi Leonard wanted out of San Antonio. The situation is a little different now, Leonard had a lot more help on the Spurs than Davis does on the Pelicans, he didn’t get along with his head coach and some teammates were slamming him in public. However, Kawhi was an MVP type of player, like Davis.
Let’s run through how a Davis trade to the East would affect the Pacers moving forward.
If I had to bet on one Eastern Conference team to land AD, it would be the Celtics. Danny Ainge is known for pulling off major trades (Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007, the blockbuster Nets trade in 2013, the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas deal in 2017), so there’s no reason to believe that he’ll sit this one out.
A trade to Boston is also the one most likely to move the Pacers around in the standings. The blue and gold are sitting in third place right now, and it was already probable that the Celtics would jump them, especially with Victor Oladipo done for the year. Boston would have to pay a high price for Davis, a deal that would have to include Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris and some draft picks, if not Gordon Hayward or Jayson Tatum. The longer New Orleans waits to deal Davis, the more likely it is that the Celtics will land him.
The Pacers were starting to gain on Toronto a little bit before Oladipo went down. That progress has since stalled, and a move by GM Masai Ujiri for Davis would all but kill that traction.
Ujiri would definitely have to include Pascal Siakam in the deal, a guy who’s a leading candidate for Most Improved Player this season, and the young IU product OG Anunoby. Don’t think for a second that Ujiri would hesitate--this is the same man who dealt DeMar DeRozan away last summer, the player who’d been the face of the franchise since about 2010.
The Raptors are basically tied for first place with Milwaukee in the East right now, but a move for Davis would catapult them ahead of the Bucks. It wouldn’t necessarily move the Pacers around that much, but it would make the gap between them and the top seeds that much bigger.
It’s hard to see a way in which the Bucks get AD without dealing Khris Middleton, but then again, it’s Anthony Davis. If you can get him, then go get him.
The package would be centered around Middleton and would probably include guys like Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez as well. Of course, some draft picks would be thrown in there, but it’s not like they were going to be in the lottery anyway.
Davis to the Bucks wouldn’t really shift the Pacers around in the conference standings, but would bump them down in the Central Division pecking order. Divisions aren’t as valuable as they used to be, but much like with Toronto, it would make the gap bigger, especially with the Greek Freak and AD on the court together.
No matter where Davis ends up, it’ll change the landscape of the NBA in some form or fashion. Some Western Conference teams are being slept on here (Mavericks, Clippers), but if you’re a Pacers fan, you’re not worried about the West. If the Brow ends up out here in the East, look out.
It didn’t even look that bad.
There he was, Victor Oladipo, about to get up after going for a steal against Pascal Siakam. Then, out comes the Grim Reaper (disguised as a trainer), who immediately throws a towel over Vic’s leg, and another entry into the book of “Indiana Getting Screwed” was written.
See, it’s easy to look at this hand that the Pacers have been dealt and say, “well, on to next year.” If you know this team, though, you know that that’s not an option. Ever since Paul George was dealt away, the Pacers have had, quite literally, a “gold swagger.” As a fan, it’s awesome-- the Pacers always have a chance to win.
If not for guys like Thad Young, Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic, and the rejuvenated Myles Turner, it’d be easy for me to count the Pacers out. But, even in a dark time like this, there are a few things that can reassure even the most skeptical among basketball fans.
Let’s run down the list.
1.) The Pacers have experience without Vic
Think back to December, when Vic first went down with a knee injury. The Pacers managed to go 7-4 during that stretch, including two victories over the Jazz while igniting the start of a 7-game win streak.
During that span, Bogdanovic averaged 19.4 points per game and dropped 20 or more 6 times. Thad put up 9 games in double figure scoring, and free agent acquisition Tyreke Evans finally started showing signs of life with a stat line of 18 points and 6 boards against the Wizards.
2.) The Pacers won’t finish lower than 5th in the East
Before the basketball gods decided to pull a fast one, I was pretty confident that the Pacers could make it to the Conference Finals. They were gradually creeping up on the Bucks and Raptors at the top of the East standings. I’m not saying that the Pacers would’ve made a Finals run, but they could have been right on the cusp.
Now, it seems pretty clear that nobody’s coming out of the East except Toronto or Boston. Wait, what about Philly, you ask? Well, when guys like Mike Muscala and TJ McConnell might be called upon in crunch time, I don’t like your chances. And the Bucks? Giannis is going to need more than Khris Middleton to get past the depth of the Celtics and the Raptors.
The bottom of the East’s playoff picture is ugly. . There’s the Hornets (23-24)--Kemba’s having a career year, but his only help is coming from Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Tony Parker’s walking carcass and Cody Zeller’s hairline. Then there’s the Wizards (20-27), whose best remaining big man is Ian Mahinmi (not a good spot to be in, believe me).
Sitting at 32-15 right now, the Pacers are six games up on the Nets, who are currently looking at the sixth seed. I’d be shocked if the blue and gold dropped below the fifth spot.
3.) More minutes for Aaron Holiday
The stats might not show it, but every time Aaron Holiday checks into the game, I get hyped. I mean, let’s be honest. Darren Collison probably isn’t coming back next year and unless Kevin Pritchard re-signs Cory Joseph, Holiday is going to be the man. He’s been good in his few appearances this season.
Tyreke is almost certainly going to take Victor’s starting spot and his minutes, but Holiday will also benefit here. If he can play well enough and get a good share of court time, don’t be shocked if he lands on an All-Rookie team.
4.) Nate McMillan knows what he’s doing
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a fan of the McMillan hiring when it happened. I was a big Frank Vogel guy, mostly because the defense came to play every night. When Vogel was let go, everything went a little downhill during the 2016-17 season. Probably the most forgettable season this decade, everything about that Pacers team frustrated me, and I put a lot of the blame on Nate.
Then, I saw the culture that Nate built last year. It had that Spurs feeling to it, a team-first mentality that led to a 48-win year. That’s when McMillan won me over. Don’t get me wrong, the coach has a tall task ahead of him without his franchise player, but if he’s able to get to 45 wins or even match last season’s total, look for McMillan to be a dark horse Coach of the Year candidate.
Pacers fans don’t need to worry about the regular season. It’s the playoffs. The East has been dominated by the same five teams up to this point, and I don’t see that changing. Do I wish Vic hadn’t been hurt? Of course. All I’m saying is, don’t lose hope just yet.
You might have more in common with IU basketball commit Trayce Jackson-Davis than you think. Enjoy Marvel movies? So does he. Can’t get enough Fortnite? Hit him up on Xbox. Think Spider-Man will be alright in the end? Join the club.
When I sat down with Jackson-Davis this week, it was nice to have a few pop culture topics sprinkled into our conversation. In a life so dominated by recruiting and basketball, it has to be relaxing to kick back and talk about almost anything else.
Now, with his decision out of the way, Jackson-Davis rehashed the moment he knew he could play at the next level. “Definitely after my freshman year [at Center Grove], going into my sophomore year of AAU, that’s when I received my first offer from IUPUI,” said Jackson-Davis. “It was kind of early in the process, so talking to my coaches and my dad and my high school coach, they were like ‘you definitely have what it takes to play so now you just have to keep working hard.’”
For Trayce, the hard work paid off. “I just kept working and working and then I got my first Big Ten offer from Purdue later that year.”
The process also taught Jackson-Davis what to look for in coaches and recruiters, eventually leading to his commitment to IU over UCLA and Michigan State. “The biggest thing that I looked for would probably be the time and effort they put into recruiting. With Indiana, I chose them because they were first to everything, they called me the most, they took the most time with me,” said Jackson-Davis. “On visits, I’d say [I looked for] the comfortability with it and how well I meshed with the players. You’re going to be with some of those guys for three to four years.”
While the recruiting process may have been stressful on Jackson-Davis, it wasn’t without some cool aspects. “I think just knowing that people want you, like on Twitter you’d see all these people that want you. I thought that was really cool,” Jackson-Davis said. “It made me feel needed, but it also put a lot of pressure on you. Just talking to some of these legendary coaches, like Steve Alford and Coach Izzo and Coach Miller, that was awesome.”
The stress hit a high point when Jackson-Davis had to call Michigan State’s Izzo and UCLA’s Alford to give them the bad news. “The most stressful thing was trying to tell two other good coaches that I wasn’t going to attend their program. Those phone calls were extremely difficult, really hard to make but you’ve got to do what’s best for your future.”
When I asked how he brings himself to make that call, Jackson-Davis kept it simple. “Just man up and do it. I called and we talked for a little bit,” Trayce said. “I was like, ‘I’m sorry coach, but I just think this is the right place for me,’ and all the coaches I talked to were really good coaches, really cool about it. They said they respected my decision.”
As you can imagine, the recruiting process might not be as glamorous as it’s made out to be. “Most annoying thing would probably be the fans. Some of them think they know a little too much, so that gets on my nerves a little bit, but nothing too bad,” said Trayce. “College coaches, when they call, sometimes you just don’t want to talk. That can be annoying as well.”
Through it all, Jackson-Davis had people in his life who helped make the process easier. “I think that my AAU coaches, Coach Hahn [from Center Grove] have helped. My family, Ray, Dale [Davis], and my mom have all been big influences in my life,” said Jackson-Davis. “Those have been the main people that have helped me so far.”
Even though basketball takes up most of his time, Jackson-Davis wanted people to know something about him that might be surprising. “Something that would surprise about me would be my sense of humor. People see me on the court, I don’t show emotion that much, so they probably don’t know much about me off the court. I’m pretty funny, pretty cool guy.”
Off the court, Jackson-Davis is just like any other high school student. He even enjoys hopping on his Xbox from time to time. “My biggest thing is probably Fortnite. I like to play with some of the guys down there, like Romeo Langford and Rob [Phinisee], played with them before. Fortnite and Black Ops 4, definitely my two go-to games right now.” Jackson-Davis also made his Marvel fandom known, while also shouting out the late Stan Lee. “Big Stan Lee fan, big Marvel fan. Rest in peace to the great one. Looking forward to those movies coming out, Avengers 4. It’s going to be insane.”
Avengers 4 might be a high priority for Jackson-Davis, but he knows what his ultimate goal is. “The end game is trying to make it to the NBA. I don’t care how long it takes--it could be one year, it could be four years. As long as I get there, that’s my ultimate goal right now.”
After posting a record of 16-15 in 2017, the IUPUI volleyball team is off to a 5-17 tally this season after a loss to Northern Kentucky on Saturday.
The Jaguars took a 1-0 lead to start the match against the Norse, but proceeded to drop the next two sets, both by a score of 25-22. The final set was a different story as Northern Kentucky came out firing and never looked back, resulting in a convincing 25-14 victory to claim the match by a score of 3-1.
The 2018 campaign has been a stark contrast to the successful 2017 season. At this point last year, the Jags were sitting at 11-11, compared to 5-17 this year. Coach Steve Payne, who is entering his 22nd season as head coach of the Jaguars, pointed to the loss of some valuable seniors from last season as a contributing factor to the slow start.
“We had a couple seniors last year who were more offensive threats than what we have right now,” said Payne. “We thought some of the other girls coming in were going to take some of those spots and we thought that was going to help us a little bit, but you don’t realize their value until they’re gone.”
Senior middle blocker Abby Boatman, who registered 3 kills in the game against Northern Kentucky, pointed to the new offense as a big difference in 2018.
“We definitely have a more even, spread-out offense, we don’t just have one big person that we go to,” said Boatman. “We have a couple people that are bigger players for us that we like to send the ball to, but in previous years I feel like we only had maybe one person that was a go-to player.”
Boatman also gave credit to the defensive personnel for the Jaguars this season, with particular praise directed at the back row.
“I think our defense and our serve-receive is good this year,” Boatman said. “We have a lot of girls in the back row that are hungry for the ball and want to dig and get the ball up, so that’s also something good that we have this year.”
Despite the loss and the differences from season to season, the Jaguars know what they need to work on going into their next contest against Green Bay, who is currently sitting atop the Horizon League standings with a 7-1 conference record and is on a seven game win streak.
“We’ve been kind of struggling and making a lot of errors and I think our offense was working better in our first couple sets,” said Payne. “We just need to focus on the good things we did in those first couple sets and get rid of the bad things we did towards the end of each set.”
Maggie Gibson, the Jaguars’ senior defensive specialist who transferred from the University of Indianapolis last season, posted a team-high 13 kills in the loss. However, Gibson was optimistic about the team’s chances going into the Green Bay game.
“I think we did a good job of showing our capabilities,” Gibson said. “Northern Kentucky is definitely a really good team in our conference and in the top three at least. To put up the fight that we did in the first three sets is very promising for us, it’s just a matter of closing. We need to play three winning sets instead of just one.”
The Jaguars will look to turn their season around on October 19 against Green Bay.