It has taken me almost a week to awaken from what has felt like a dream…….no a nightmare. I literally sat on the couch, staring through my television in stunned silence after Pacers star Paul George went down to injury in the US Select Showcase Exhibition last Friday.
All of a sudden the Pacers didn’t matter. The return of Derrick Rose didn’t matter. Basketball didn’t matter. All the mattered was the health of Paul George.
As hard as it may have been, I found some positive during the George injury. For starters, the game was called. The game was being showcased on ESPN, but with players and fans both shaken up, the right move was made to call the game. The second thing I noticed was fan reaction.
At the game itself fans responded well to the game cancellation, there were no boos, or signs of disrespect…out of respect for George and his family. I took to social media where I was even more surprised. Pacers fans weren’t talking about the season being over. Fans of other teams weren’t talking about how terrible the Pacers were going to be now. Media members weren’t pushing deadlines just to get the story out. This was about thoughts & prayers for Paul George and his family.
Now that the dust has settled a bit, and George has started recovery from a successful surgery, it’s time to talk about the Pacers future. Should the Pacers rebuild?
It’s definitely something that has to be crossing the mind of Larry Bird and the Pacers front office. Bird hasn’t been known to be the rebuilding type, but retooling may be another story? Jermaine O’Neal for T.J. Ford and 17th pick (Roy Hibbert), Ron Artest for Peja Stojakovic, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington for Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy.
I bring up these trades from the past as an example of how Larry Bird might be thinking. Now players may not have panned out in these deals, but we have to keep in mind whom the Pacers were sending out. This time around Bird may have a lot better assets at his disposal.
Paul George sitting out the entire year will most likely give the Pacers a decent first round pick in next year’s NBA Draft. Though I feel the Pacers still have a good chance of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference next year, it’s probably as a lower seed. A first round pick is always valuable, but even more so in the teens-early 20s.
What if the Pacers don’t make the playoffs? A lottery pick that could land the Pacers a top prospect like Jahill Okafor, Karl Towns, Emmanuel Mudiay, Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre or Mario Hezonja could help the Pacers bounce back quickly. Lottery picks also tend to have great value come draft time, if the Pacers prefer to move the pick for an established vet.
The Pacers will also have the luxury of players entering the final year of their contracts. Roy Hibbert and David West will both have player options after this upcoming season. Though it’s hard to see either player opting out of their deals, it does give the Pacers two hefty expiring contracts. Both Hibbert and West are two of the Pacers biggest assets, and will be even more so after next season with only one year left on their contract.
Other than George, Hibbert and West, the Pacers will only have 5 players under contract. George Hill, Ian Mahinmi, Damjan Rudez, C.J. Miles, and Solomon Hill. Mahinmi will be in his last year, with Solomon Hill having a team option.
This leaves the Pacers with some intriguing decisions to make. Do you keep Hibbert, West and Hill hoping a healthy Paul George returns and gets the Pacers back to the top of the Eastern Conference in 2015? Or is it time to break up the band to surround Paul George with a new cast of characters upon his return?
Back to back Eastern Conference Final defeats at the hands of Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Before that an Eastern Conference Semi-Finals loss to the Heat as well. Bird has built, tweaked, and tweaked, but this current group hasn’t been able to get over the hump. Losing his star player for the season should give Larry Bird some time to really dissect this Pacers roster he has put together.
Larry Bird has done a great job restoring Pacers basketball in Indiana. The city and the fans have come back to support the Blue & Gold. Bird and the Pacers will have the some tough decisions to make following the injury to Paul George.
These decisions, coupled with the uncertainty of the type of player George will be upon his return, will likely shape the Pacers organization for years to come. And ultimately determine whether those Pacers fans decide to stick around awhile longer.