The Indiana Pacers should realize that in today’s NBA, continuity may be fool’s gold

Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

In sports, I call myself a preacher of process. Rooting for small market teams for the most part, the prospect of claiming overnight success through colossal market swoops have never been something I’ve witnessed. Perhaps, that’s why I’ve been among the most defensive about the Indiana Pacers insisting on trying to win with continuity at its core.

The jarring discrepancy between big and small markets in the NBA, while probably overstated, is a legitimate factor that inherently pushes some franchises to start off at a farther line than others. The Pacers, while not having a title to its name, have been relatively steady and rarely uncompetitive since the day I was born.

With Indiana being a prime basketball city, the thought of deliberately losing games to make a boisterous push for a franchise messiah—another uncertainty—has never been one to linger on for the front office, notwithstanding who’s in charge. What the Pacers have done in recent years is to cultivate a star, either in-house or undervalued, yet talented prospects, and surround that star with as much talent as they ca possibly accrue.

After the Paul George era, where the Indiana Pacers repeatedly flirted with Finals appearances in 2013 and 2014, the Blue and Gold managed to strike gold with two All-Stars after the former’s ugly exit from the Circle City in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. The Blue and Gold deserves major credit for allowing them to grow into All-Stars, even managing to banner rosters that arguably overachieved for three seasons from 2017 to 2020.

However, fast forward to the present, the Pacers are tied for the worst record in the league. Oladipo is no more, as Sabonis is now the primary name in Indy. With Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Myles Turner and TJ Warren rounding out the core, this team is loaded on paper. However, their emphasis on continuity has been far from fruitful, with the team looking dangling as it struggles. While far from untalented, one may argue that this is the worst core to trot out under the banner of continuity.

The Indiana Pacers have not benefitted from their core virtue of continuity

The main culprit? Injuries. A perpetual Indiana problem, all five of those “core” players are injury-prone. After the Pacers’ successful regular season in the 2019-20 campaign, things quickly went downhill. From nagging injuries came major ones. From seemingly inevitable coaching changes came full-blown locker room hazards. From consistent winning seasons came losing records.

Writing offseason pieces, quite frankly, have been a rather stale activity covering the Indiana Pacers. Their lack of free agency allure, or really, the desire to delve into blockbuster trades, for the sake of “running it back,” without any guarantee of it actually materializing due to frail bodies and lengthy, caution-laced injury track records, didn’t galvanize anything much.

Still, I hoped that last season was a complete aberration, and that the Pacers can get back to their winning ways and be a shocker the way they did in the not-so-distant past.

As it turns out, the Indiana Pacers face more pressing issues that make their seemingly sacrosanct virtue of continuity a futile one. The East is no longer the five or less-team race that it was when they were playing persistent wildcards to clear-cut contenders.

While former cellar dwellers like New York, Atlanta, and Chicago, teams that the Pacers easily trumped before, developed their young guns and became key players in free agency, Indiana opted to preach familiarity. Now, it seems that they are lagging behind their counterparts with a worn-down roster, even just seven games into the season, without any clear chance of even getting to test out their actual core.

It’s still early, but given the Indiana Pacers’ waning relevance in the league, failing to turn their putrid standing around at some point should automatically prompt a major change in any form in the foreseeable future.

After all, before they even get to write their story, the ink that they’ve preserved for long enough may already be dry.

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