The Indiana Pacers season ended a little more than a month ago in something fairly close to disgrace. The Pacers went from legitimate title contenders to a middling squad that made the Eastern Conference Finals largely by default before falling to the far superior Miami Heat. Along the way, center Roy Hibbert turned into one of the most confoundingly inconsistent players in the NBA, Lance Stephenson became more wrestling heel than basketball player, and the roster as a whole seemed downright miserable even as they nearly matched the finish from their breakout 2013 playoff run. The front office could have been forgiven for declaring a need for meaningful changes.
After an NBA Draft in which the Pacers dumped their only pick (a late second-rounder), the East's runner-up two years in a row will now assess options and try to reformat the team into something like the functional unit that looked very impressive before the All-Star break. However, according to team president Larry Bird, their offseason moves won't involve breaking up the team's core. That suits the Pacers' top star just fine. From Conrad Brunner for ESPN 1070 The Fan:
“You can speculate all you want but I’m pretty set with our core group and we’re going to give ‘em another shot,” Bird said. “They almost got there two years in a row; I think they deserve another shot.”
That will come as music to George’s ears. Speaking earlier in the evening before the Carolyn Symmes charity softball game co-hosted by Roy Hibbert and the Colts’ Robert Mathis at Victory Field, George said he hoped the team remained intact.
“I like the core that we’ve got,” George said. “You don’t find that in the NBA where your starting five has been together for a couple of years. A lot of guys like to move around. In that aspect, I love it. We’ve got the pieces to win a championship. Someway, somehow, we’ve just got to find a way to put it all together.”
Bird goes on to say that he believes in keeping the same players together for many years as a general concept. On the face of it, his argument makes a great deal of sense. While the Pacers ended the season with several months of below-average play and an overriding malaise, the same team still managed to play excellent basketball in 2012-13 and until March 2014. It's not totally out of the question to suggest that they can get back to that level, especially if Stephenson returns at the right price and with a sense of purpose that doesn't involve blowing in ears.
Yet it's important to remember that moving the Pacers' core at all is easier said than done. George is set for a big extension and remains a legitimate star with the ability to win a playoff game by himself — there's no real sense in moving him. Hibbert is paid max-level money and doesn't seem like a bargain at that price — his trade value has never been lower. David West is effective at 33 years old and George Hill is coming off a poor postseason — neither player will bring back the haul the Pacers need to remake the lineup. Using the eternal dealmaking logic of "buy low, sell as high as other general managers let you," the Pacers have no reason to force a reloading process at this time.
It's tempting to speak of every team as controlling their destiny in regards to an individual desire to rebuild or not, but more often than not these decisions depend on the larger context of the NBA. Whether the Pacers want to break up their core is almost besides the point. The limiting factor here is the extent to which breaking up that group currently allows them to reach the resolution they need to keep the franchise in solid shape.
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