Pacers owner Herb Simon says he 'of course' can build a champion around Paul George

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4725/" data-ylk="slk:Paul George">Paul George</a> can’t believe it’s <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/3523/" data-ylk="slk:Richard Jefferson">Richard Jefferson</a>, either. (Getty Images)
Paul George can’t believe it’s Richard Jefferson, either. (Getty Images)

So, maybe, the flip wasn’t switched but, what, the dimmer bulb was put back into use?

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The bulb’s always been there, the Cavs only bust it out when they need to make a point, prior to going right back to let leakers loose and acting all the part of the defensive sieve. In a game that saw them give up 108 and let Paul George score 29, a game in which we most certainly did not see Cleveland flip the proverbial switch in the first postseason game of its title defense, the Cavs still compiled enough necessary stops down the stretch to pull out the win.

And Paul George scores 29, while LeBron James scores 32 in a one-point win. Because J.R. Smith, of all people, decidedly to let his timely defensive reputation carry over.

Howl not for George, though, not even after his team’s 41st loss in a tumultuous year. One of the league’s best team owners also happens to run the Pacers, and Herb Simon appears to be as committed as ever to securing a proper foundation around an obvious star. From a discussion with the Indianapolis Star’s Nate Taylor:

This guy has taken over the team and pulled us up. I think very highly of him. I think he was incredibly personable at our breakfast in New Orleans during the All-Star weekend. He was very open. He wants to be a champion. He wants a winning team and it’s our job to get him one. He’s got that desire to be a special player, which he is, and to have a special team. We’re all on the same wavelength. It’s just a matter of we both have to produce. He has to produce and we have to give him the players to produce with.

Q: Was there any real consideration in trading George before the deadline in February?

A: Basically, we were offered a lot of things. We didn’t even think of taking any of them. (President) Larry (Bird) will give you a better feel for it, but the answer is you can’t stop people from making offers. But it wasn’t any question of accepting any of them.

Q: Do you believe you can win a championship with George?

A: Of course.

George is in the third year of a five-year, $80 million extension he signed with Indiana back in 2013, and he’s in line for a massive, nearly $220 million extension this summer if he sticks with the Pacers via contract extension (and a few All-NBA votes gone the right way). So you can not only see why George would be so personable at breakfast last February, but why Herb Simon “of course” believes that the Pacers can win a championship with George.

We’ve already proven that you can win a championship with Isaiah Rider, or Ed Nealy. The deeper question remains whether or not a player is suited to lead a team to a title with that particular player as its obvious star, with the answer up to both the player and team in equal amounts. The Pacers acknowledge that this is a rebuilding year, its first with Nate McMillan as head coach, and on paper the near-matching of the defending champs on Sunday would seem to suggest Indiana ahead of the curve.

Right? Isn’t that how 2012 began? Weren’t the Pacers on the road to title contention within the year?

The problem is that while LeBron James may have slightly faded in the half-decade since, George has only grown older. This is good on George’s personal production front, he’s closer to his prime, but with his teammates a collection of too-old prospects and journeyman helpers, the thought of enduring a rebuilding year after a few seasons spent battling LeBron in the sun has, clearly, unnerved George. He’s been kvetching throughout 2016-17.

To his credit, George truly appears to want to make it work ten times in Indianapolis before he’d try and hack it somewhere else, in spite of the southbound smattering that surrounding his trade deadline turn with the Pacers:


That’s marvelous, and on paper once again George doesn’t look to be having too much an issue. His 29 points on 19 shots with seven assists and five rebounds only come with so distinct a caveat because of his opponent, and what’s at stake. It’s just Game 2, it would be safe to confirm that there is quite a bit at stake for both player and team – even if All-NBA assurances can’t be swayed with a knockout postseason turn.

The obvious starting point is the final shot that Paul George didn’t take, in Game 1’s closing possession for the Pacers, a look he chided himself for passing on just minutes after the loss. That’s fine – Lance Stephenson was open, some ultra-stars find a way to keep the dribble in the face of a LeBron James-led double-team – perhaps George could do better.

The final play remains a tough one. The quarter that included it – four points on 1-4 shooting, two assists – wasn’t explicitly awful: George made some of the right cuts, and the right passes, one drive on LeBron was the sound move, and he can’t be blamed for Kyrie Irving suddenly fancying himself a defender on a few plays.

There were too many possessions, though, that saw George take himself out of the equation. Relegating himself to that of a three-point shooter even with Channing Frye’s head turned and Kevin Love the only other interior option for Cleveland. All credit to J.R. Smith for his ongoing defensive duty, but the Pacers can’t have to rely on Lance Stephenson making plays out of nowhere in order to survive.

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George can’t do much about teammate Jeff Teague’s issues in defending the screen and roll and he can’t make his teammates taller where they need to be. Defense remains the order of the day. Perhaps a lineup change is in order, or perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the Pacers (in “Year One, We Guess”) are doing just fine for a club facing the defending champs on the road.

Ownership is committed, and the George has given every indication that he can that he’d prefer to long haul-it in Indiana. No trades are allowed between games, though, and George has to find new ways to make himself spry yet again, offensively, in Game 2. Well before it even comes down to a final shot.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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