Apr 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; (From left to right) Indiana Pacers general manager Donnie Walsh, owner Herb Simon, and president Larry Bird look on as the Pacers lose to the Atlanta Hawks in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Atlanta defeats Indiana 107-97. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

What's Next for the Indiana Pacers?

The most frustrating season of Indiana Pacers’ basketball has mercifully come to an end. This team ascended to new heights and fell to unbelievable lows in one season.

The Pacers had fans thinking championship, but completely fell apart following the All-Star break. It was the most perplexing of collapses too. This team just suddenly stopped remembering how to play basketball. None of the key players were injured, but all the stats dropped like a rock.

The historic level of defense was gone, the offense gave new meaning to the word “stagnant,” and everyone started taking shots at each other. It led to all sorts of rumors and the team went 16-14 to close out the regular season.

Don’t blame the trade between Evan Turner and Danny Granger either. Granger may have been well liked, but he was never a very vocal leader. While a solid player during the dark years of the mid-2000s, Granger never grabbed this team and took it to new heights. It was his biggest flaw, aside from the weak knees.

After today’s press conference, it is clear that Frank Vogel and Larry Bird want to keep the team together. Both talked about how young this team is, but in reality that isn’t much of an excuse. Paul George is 24, Lance Stephenson 23 but the other starters are not so young. George Hill and Roy Hibbert just finished their sixth season and David West is 33.

It really is just a lame excuse. It doesn’t explain the way this team fell apart down the stretch. Bird also indicated that he is open to whatever is out there, meaning if an attractive trade offer appears he could take it.

Here’s what to pay attention in the offseason:

  • Lance Stephenson. He is a free agent and the Pacers have a big decision to make regarding re-signing him. There is no doubt that he is an electric, high-energy player who continues to get better but he’s also shown an incredible lack of maturity. Larry Bird has to think long and hard about this decision. He’s been a long time supporter of Stephenson, but the recent antics during the series with the Heat annoyed him.
    • For Re-signing. If Bird chooses to keep Stephenson, we’ll probably have the same starting five for next season. That will mean re-tooling the bench. We know that Evan Turner is done in Indiana, especially since he barely played during the playoffs. This would mean adding some offensive firepower with the reserve unit and figuring out a way to make a more efficient offense, perhaps by having George Hill and Stephenson switch roles.
    • For Letting Him Walk. Stephenson is likely going to cost a lot of money and could potentially put the Pacers over the cap. He also cost himself a fair amount of money during the Miami series with his nonsense.
  • Re-load or Blow it up? This team was built to beat the Heat, a task they’ve failed to do for three years now. It will be interesting to see if any of the starters either demand a trade or are put on the block in the coming months. With all the unproven rumors that have swirled around the Pacers, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone wanted out. West and George aren’t going anywhere, that’s basically guaranteed. That will essentially leave Hibbert and Hill as the only players who could be moved. With their current contracts, it’d be surprising if there were any takers. Simply put, there isn’t much the Pacers can do outside of letting Stephenson walk and finding a replacement.
  • Roy Hibbert. What kind of player will he be going forward? He can be a very dominant center, and put on a decent amount of weight last off season to be more productive. He needs to work on his mental fortitude over the next few months and get a few more post moves outside of the jump hooks. He can’t let the number of offensive touches affect his defensive effort and if his shot isn’t falling, he can still impact a game through rebounding and blocking shots. George is going to be the primary offensive threat next season anyway, so Hibbert’s defense (and offensive rebounding) is going to be much more important. The Pacers can’t have him stringing together games without stats next season, especially if the bench doesn’t improve.
  • The Bench. The goal of the past off season was for the bench to get better. At times, it looked outstanding but during the later half of the season and into the playoffs it was terrible. C.J. Watson was a solid addition, but Luis Scola was painfully inconsistent and a defensive liability. It also doesn’t help that Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee both had great seasons after leaving Indiana. The Pacers need some reserve players they can trust, and it might not be an easy task with the team being awfully close to the salary cap.

While it was a disappointing end to the season, the Pacers still have a lot of potential on this roster. If they can get over some mental hurdles, and the Eastern Conference doesn’t improve much, they’ll be in a position to make a deep playoff run in 2014-15.

Tags: Frank Vogel Indiana Pacers Lance Stephenson Larry Bird Roy Hibbert

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