Roy Hibbert’s inexplicable disappearance. Paul George’s off-court drama. Lance Stephenson’s looming free agency. Danny Granger’s ghost. Andrew Bynum’s voodoo.
Those things have formed the story for months now. There were basketball games played during an embarrassing stretch for the Indiana Pacers, but those games felt more like evidence to support the disaster created by the combined efforts of everything mentioned in the previous paragraph.
The Pacers weren’t just written off. That would imply that people stopped talking about them. They were a historic disaster waiting to happen. We all wrote the story ahead of time. We were just waiting for the minor details like, you know, how it all went down in flames.
That was the narrative.
The crazy thing is that everything I’ve written here up to this sentence doesn’t matter one bit. The Pacers are exactly where they were supposed to be six months ago.
Context only matters in worlds where scoreboards don’t exist.
The Pacers are up one game in the Eastern Conference Finals on the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. The balance of their starting lineup complemented their defense while Indiana controlled the tempo of Game 1.
Does that sound about right?
We always need a narrative.
It’s human nature to latch on to a story and just as easy to get caught up in the moment. In analyzing sports we always like to talk about sample sizes. The longer the period of time you study, the stronger your analysis will be. Well, the Indiana Pacer train wreck is a narrative four months in the making — certainly not a small sample size.
But a much larger narrative looms and it has been years in the making.
The Pacers are still an organization that was nearly decimated by a thrown beverage. The ensuing brawl caused by the beverage led to suspensions, losses, decrease in attendance, and tarnished reputations.
If the “Malice in the Palace” crippled the organization in one swift blow, the rise back to respectability came at a much slower pace. Savvy decision making and patience led to the development of players like Granger and Hibbert and Stephenson and, especially, Paul George.
The Pacers’ current starting lineup consists of three excellent draft picks, one savvy trade, and a low-key free agent signing.
One of those draft picks, taken 10th, became a franchise player. Another, selected 17th, became an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
As far as the trade, some players would have folded under the pressure of being shipped off for Kawhi Leonard while Leonard developed into one of the better two-way players in the NBA, but not George Hill. He just kept being exactly what the Pacers needed — a stable professional who helped change the culture and set an example — ensuring that any “regret” over the deal was reserved to Twitter and always stayed far from the front office.
That low-key signing just happened to become the heart and soul of the team. David West chose a young roster with potential and then molded it in his image: Gritty, tough, confident. He didn’t set out to do this, it is merely what happened after his formidable presence entered the equation.
The Pacers are as “home-grown” as a team can be in the NBA. The brilliance of each move can only be appreciated when seen in the light of the moves that preceded them. A basketball state like Indiana can appreciate that.
On the other hand, everyone knows how the Heat were put together. The greatest player of a generation joined forces with two of his biggest rivals to form a super team. They did so ceremoniously and stated their expectations. Since then they have been the most dominant team in the NBA.
Like it or not, the Heat represent greatness. Perhaps it is greatness that has been flaunted but certainly not greatness that is unearned.
They are the mountain that the Pacers have had to climb in order to get true recognition for the merit of their organization and their players. Two years ago, up 2-1, on the Heat with a Game 4 in Indiana looming, the Pacers were in position to prevent a dynasty. Last year, they could have conceivably tried to start one for themselves. This year, with possible free agency coming up for the “Big Three,” the Pacers are in a position to end a dynasty.
We have spent years discussing the rise of this team, then months discussing the fall of an empire that never ever became one.
Well, now, they are up a game on the Heat.
That’s your narrative.
Now, they have the chance to confirm the collapse or erase the worst claims of rubbernecking sportswriters.
This story has been three years in the making. Soon, we find out how it ends.
Tags: Indiana Pacers