The Pacers are winning. You heard that correctly. That's not a misprint; not some cruel joke that the basketball Gods decided to play on a tortured fan base that hasn't known pure winning in nearly a decade. The Pacers truly are winning, and it's brought with it a significant change to team perception, team appreciation, and even the general Pacer fan's emotional state. What might some of these changes be? Well, as I often like to do, I've made a list; a list of 10 items to be exact, that represent the spoils of following a winning franchise again. At risk of lambasting the IC community in one sitting with a lengthy 2000-word dissertation (on winning), I've kindly broken it up into two parts. I hope you've enjoyed the winning revolution as much as I have, and I hope the winning doesn't stop here because it sure feels good to be a part of a winning effort once again.
After the jump, items 6-10 discussing the joys of winning. Caution to all readers: much like this humble introduction, plan to see the word "winning" a lot. It will be repetitive, and may even get to the point of unwanted inundation. My retort: after six years of mediocrity, bombardment of such a joyous word is not only refreshing, but much, much deserved. Enjoy:
10. Winning Means All-Star Recognition - Let's just say, not everyone's as lucky as Yao Ming. Healthy or unhealthy, winning team or average team, Yao always had China on his side to preserve All-Star representation. The majority of candidates? They need winning. Sure, blast off for a spectacular season like a Danny Granger in 2009, or a Kevin Love in 2012, and one can enjoy all-star fruits sans the winning reputation. But if the spectacular isn't sustainable, then all-star appearances will most likely be short lived. For all-star capable players who are rarely on the nationwide-fan radar, they need winning. That's why Roy Hibbert--a player short on flashy stats and short on a flashy game--is heading to Orlando, and it just might be why Paul George--a player who was an equally impressive dunker last season--got the nod for the 2012 dunk competition. Winning couldn't get Lance Stephenson into the skills challenge, though, despite many (okay, just me) who think he'd actually do quite well in such a setting. Maybe next year, Lance, when the winning multiplies even further...
9. Winning Means Power-Ranking Bliss - Tell the truth, now. How many times over the last six years did you closely follow Pacer ramblings of the NBA's fiendish prognosticators (i.e. power rankings)? Troy Murphy's two-category-blitz-and-nothing-else style, and Mike Dunleavy's burgeoning bone spur in his knee sure made tracking the power rankings a tedious, and fraught affair for the Blue-and-Gold faithful. Now? Power rankings are a weekly-reading ritual, mostly because what Pacers' soul wants to miss the latest praise heaped upon this collection of Smash Mouthers. Five-game losing streaks can certainly put a damper on power-ranking pleasure, but following it up with a four-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break ought to make amends for past sins.
8. Winning Means Players Have Defined Roles, Or Does It? - Remember when Roy Hibbert was a questionable option as a long-term starting center? Remember when Tyler Hansbrough was a confusing cross between potential starting PF, and Goon-Squad extraordinaire? Remember when Danny Granger was misfit as a No. 1 scoring option on a poor team? Give me the wins, and I'll give you a role, or maybe it's the other way around, I don't know. What I do know is that Roy Hibbert is an unquestionable, All-Star worthy, and many-times dominant starting five-man who's only problem now is determining just how low the front office can keep his extension number; a number that is sure to be expensive for any small-market breed. Hansbrough's a Goon-Squad lifer who probably shouldn't ever sniff another starting opportunity. Unless, of course, injury forces say otherwise. Granger's still a No. 1 scoring option, but he can do so with a steady hand, and with trust in other teammates that if he can't get it done, one of them will. Winning = defined roles, or defined roles = winning, either way it doesn't matter, ‘cause the Pacers have both, and it's revolutionized the fan experience.
7. Winning Means All Quiet on the Trade Front - With all due respect to IC nation--a community that surely loves its trade pillaging--relief abounds as trade rumors no longer need to dominate team discussion. In its place is discussion about winning; about how coaching and player adjustments could lead to more winning; about how "this many wins could mean this seed in the playoffs." It's refreshing, no? Talking about winning rather than roster overhaul, and/or roster purgatory? The Pacers are still well under the salary cap, and are still likely a solid addition or two away from being true "contenders," which means trade chatter still necessarily hovers, but it's no longer necessarily domineering. Another reason to bow down to winning.
6. Winning Means You Beat Those That You're Supposed to Beat - The Indiana Pacers have 12 losses. Unscientifically, one (me) could argue that only three of those losses have come against teams the Pacers should have beaten unequivocally (Detroit, Sacramento, Cleveland). On the other hand, an abundance of the Pacers' wins--13 to be exact--have come against similarly inferior teams. The evidence shows Indiana is beating teams they should beat, and losing to teams they have a decent chance of losing to. Beating teams you should beat is one of the first steps to winning validity, and the Pacers are well on their way to achieving the milestone. The next step is to enter the waters of Miami-hood, or Chicago-dom. That would mean not only beating teams you're supposed to beat, but just plain beating everyone. Will Indiana take that step this season? Realists probably say no, perpetual optimists--cough...Frank Vogel...cough--say not only can it be done now, but it will be. And honestly, Coach Vogel's track record for justified bravado is pretty darn good.