The Honeymoon's Just About Over

Last year the Pacers’ success was a culmination of a number of unselfish and committed players put together by a patient front office and coached by a young, hardworking coach. It was the end of a drought. After a few years of irrelevance, the Pacers were winning basketball games. The team clicked quickly and may have even overachieved ultimately.

Funny thing about success, though, is that once you get it you’re going to start expecting it. I hate to be the negative person in any situation, and I really hate to be the Debbie Downer that starts her engines before everyone else. But I’m going to go ahead and forecast the mentality of radio hosts, newspaper columnists, many fans, and maybe even ESPN-affiliated, Pacer-based blogs come next season. That mentality is: After a team has a year like last season, they are supposed to get better, not worse.

I am not predicting that the Pacers will be worse next season, but obviously, that’s up to the players. Indiana has been blessed with a number of high-character players with small egos who are hard to criticize harshly. That’s the way it should be. But if you want to give a fickle-fan some ammunition to talk down about an athlete there is one sure-fire way: give that athlete a big, fat contract.

Roy Hibbert signed a four-year, max contract worth nearly $60 million. To be clear, I support the move by the Pacers, but it will still be up to Roy to live up to that number.

More surprisingly, George Hill received a five-year, $40 million contract. Hill was certainly solid in his year in Indiana, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say he was $4o million solid. He will have to prove to be an impact point guard over the next couple seasons. Not only that, but he will have to prove to be better than Darren Collison, who was traded away this summer. There are many different opinions on this, but factoring in both last season and the playoffs for both players, I actually would rate Collison’s performance better than Hill’s. Collison is expected to be the starting point guard for the Dallas Mavericks next season for the price of $2.3 million.

My math skills barely qualify me to tell you that the Pacer’s just locked in $100 million to two players. Whether you agree or disagree with the signings, they did (likely) prevent the Pacers from signing any marquee (or just-below-marquee) free agents.

Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo were both free agents that many people hoped might land with the Pacers. Both seemed relatively realistic options. But the money simply wasn’t there. The Dallas Mavericks snatched up both players. They cleared the cap space to sign them by electing not to re-sign Ian Mahinmi. Not only did they not re-sign him, but they flipped him for Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones. The men on both sides of these negotiations are smarter than I am, but from my perspective the Mavericks seemingly hustled the Pacers.

If the Mavericks end up getting a lot out of Mayo, Kaman, Collison and Jones then the Pacers’ front office better hope Indiana is putting up some Ws or there will be a lot of finger pointing.

So while Hibbert is trying to prove he is worth $60 million, his backup, Mahinmi, will be trying to prove he is worth $16 million. And what may end up being Hibbert’s backup’s backup, Miles Plumlee, will be trying to prove that he was worth the 26th pick in the draft.

And perhaps the best player on the team, Danny Granger. will have to continue to prove that he is a leader. Is that really a fair criticism? Probably not, but it is the burden of a talented player. Dirk Nowitzki had to deal with it for years. Lebron James got it much worse. Carmelo Anthony is hearing it now. And all those players perform at a considerably higher level than Granger. Not to mention he is in the midst of his own $60 million contract.

And then there’s Paul George. Last year it was all about potential. The word that will make a fan giddy about a player. But the problem is that potential has to turn into results quickly. We sports fans are not a patient bunch. If Paul George is going to become an elite shooting guard, he will start having to do what elite shooting guards do pretty soon: play at an elite level.

I really am not trying to criticize a bunch of players that I actually like, respect and, for the most part, believe in. I am simply trying to point out that the cards will be dealt differently this year. Pacers’ management has made moves that will put a lot of players in a position where they have to perform or they will be judged quite harshly. We haven’t even mentioned the signings of Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin. The pressure will be on both of them to prove that they, respectively, belong in this league and run a second-string offense at least as well as Darren Collison.

The honeymoon’s over.

With success comes expectations. And next season, the the mentality from many Pacers supporters will begin to shift away from last year’s “Do your best and make us proud” and more towards “Do the best or get out of town.”

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Tags: Raised Fan Expectations

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