Three years after reaching the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight season and two years after Paul George broke his leg during a Team USA scrimmage, the Indiana Pacers are 15-18, losers of four straight and in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time with a healthy PG13 on the roster.
And that really bums George out.
In a lengthy discussion with reporters following a pair of fines totaling $25,000 for George and Pacers coach Nate McMillan as a result of their officiating complaints following a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday, the three-time All-Star indicated his frustrations have as much to do with the current state of Indiana’s roster and his own unhappiness with coming to work every day as it does with officiating.
Very interesting quote from Paul George today, on how his mindset has been this season pic.twitter.com/vw3vPnWS1P
“Maybe I’m just living in the past, of how good we used to be,” George told reporters at practice this week. “All the guys I had around. I’m still living in that moment, maybe. And I got to put myself into a different team. Maybe I have to do more. Maybe that’s just what it is. Maybe I have to do more now. But whatever it is, I’m going to figure it out.”
As if that’s not the saddest thing you’ve heard from an NBA star in recent years, George went further:
More Paul George, on the mood this year: pic.twitter.com/2XMeNrm3gc
— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) December 29, 2016
“I’ve been getting caught up with officials, getting caught up with on-court stuff,” he added, via The Indianapolis Star. “(I’ve lost) sight of how fun this game is to me. … Now whatever happens on the court, I couldn’t care less, as long as I’m having fun and enjoying what I’m doing.
“This season hasn’t been (fun). It’s been one of the most frustrating seasons I’ve been a part of. But I just have to approach it as being myself, to enjoy the process, enjoy the grind. That’s only going to show on the court. But more so, it’s going to show in the locker room.”
The difficulty now comes with showing it in a locker room that just heard its leader unfavorably compare his current teammates to ones he played with in years past for public consumption.
Since taking the Miami Heat to seven and six games, respectively, in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 Eastern Conference finals, with George emerging as a challenger to LeBron James’ throne, the Pacers swapped the likes of Lance Stephenson, George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert for Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner. On paper, that’s not such a bad swap, since all but Hill have taken turns for the worse elsewhere. In reality, Indiana has fallen to the league’s bottom half in defensive rating after years of ranking among the NBA’s most stout defenses under former coach Frank Vogel.
Much of that can be attributed to swapping Vogel for Nate McMillan, whose past teams were often middling defensive units, and additions like Ellis or Jefferson, who came with lackluster defensive reputations. Even Jeff Teague, a fixture on an Atlanta Hawks team that ranked among the league’s top defenses the past several years, is a drop-off defensively from Hill. Eventually, the chain will break, and it snapped this season. Then, there’s George, who took pride in locking down opposing wings and emerged as one of the NBA’s best at it, and saw Carmelo Anthony drop 35 points on him last week.
Whether that’s a result of Anthony’s effective offense, George’s ineffective defense or a combination of the two, we know the Pacers star didn’t enjoy it. And if they have any hope of salvaging this season, they’re going to need George to return to the form that made him one of the game’s top two-way players. The first step on that path, apparently, is his own happiness, and at least he realizes it.
Just as encouraging is that George’s decision to air out his teammates and hold himself accountable for his own attitude hasn’t soured Indiana’s locker room yet, at least as far as C.J. Miles is concerned.
“It’s like hey, man, relax,” countered Miles, according to The Indianapolis Star. “Just play basketball. Everybody’s a victim of (pressing). Myself and one through 15 in the locker room. Everybody wants it so bad. … We just got to relax a little bit and know we can’t do everything in one or two plays. The game can be more fun, and we can get more energetic and more passion and show it to each other. That’s where we need to get — where it overflows and becomes contagious.”
That process begins on Friday night in a rematch against the Bulls — the same team that led George to question whether referees officiated the Pacers differently than other teams and ultimately elicited this melancholy public catharsis. Here’s hoping this shot at redemption brings a smile to his face.
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