After losing Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets in free agency and with Paul George likely out for the season, the Pacers are nobody’s favorites to win the East this season. In fact, it’s not far fetched to imagine a scenario where they miss the playoffs entirely. However, Larry Bird is confident in his team and does not plan on bottoming out this season.
Via Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star, Bird made it clear the Pacers have every intention of being competitive this season:
Yes, this is a terrible blow to the franchise.
And no, we’re not giving up on next year.
Or something to that effect.
“Have our expectations lowered any?” Bird said. “I don’t think so. I think we’ll compete hard and do our best to make the playoffs; that’s always one of our goals. I can sit up here and sugarcoat it all you want me to, but you just can’t replace Paul George.”
The Pacers were granted a $5.3 million disabled player exception by the league this week. In reality, the team will only spend about $2 million of that amount in order to avoid going into luxury tax territory. There’s not much out there in free agency at this point, and certainly no player who is available and capable of adequately replacing what they’ve lost in Stephenson and George.
Even with last year’s roster, the Pacers finished 22nd in offensive efficiency and were 24th in the league in points per game. Unless there’s a significant improvement from Roy Hibbert on the offensive end, or if newly acquired C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey have career years, it would be reasonable to expect Indiana to struggle on the offensive end again this year.
This helps explain why they were willing to part with Hibbert, Chris Copeland and some cash to acquire Suns point guard Goran Dragic.
The playoffs may still be a realistic goal, but at best, the Pacers will be fighting for one of the lower seeds in the Eastern Conference.
The alternative would be to survey the trade market to see what the value is for Hibbert, who is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $14.9 million this season. Hibbert has a player option at $15.5 million for the 2015-16 season, and if his struggles from last season carry over to this year, it’s more than likely he will exercise that option.
Even if the Pacers were looking to bottom out, it would make no sense for Bird to come out and say that publicly, as it would put him at a disadvantage in any potential trade talks. So while Bird is insistent that the Pacers will try to make the playoffs, it’s still possible that they’ll reverse course during the season and try to rebuild on the fly while they wait for George’s eventual return.
After two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, it appears the Pacers are in for a long season.
What do you think?
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