He was not "comfortable here and didn’t want to be here and I think if he didn’t want to be here, there’s no point for anyone in him being here."
"He did not seem like he really wanted to do a pick-and-roll offense…"
"But for whatever reason we just couldn’t get that relationship as far as them communicating and them trusting each other the way you needed them to trust each other in order for us to win a championship. It just didn’t happen that way."
"But it hurts me that this unique opportunity we have with such good players is not being maximized."
He "worries too much" about what people think.
"Well, you know, 'all for one' didn't last (very) long, did it? Forty-eight-hour shelf life. That's not bad. We'll take what we can get."
If you thought these were quotes from the 2012-2013 Pacers, you would be sorely mistaken. Nope. These are quotes from some of last year’s Los Angeles Lakers (from top to bottom: Steve Nash, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and Mike D’Antoni). Remember – that team that was projected, last summer, to win the NBA title. Instead of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy, the Lakers were plagued by bitter infighting, petty arguments, and, in general, a lot of disrespect all season. There were rumors of arguments that, allegedly, almost led to fisticuffs. There was public complaining about coaching style, system, and teammates. There was juvenile backbiting in the media and on twitter. There was the blame game. There was the request for coaches to be fired and players to be amnestied – or muzzled. In other words, there was absolutely no team chemistry, no trust, no accountability, no teamwork, and, in turn, no chance of winning a championship.
Building chemistry is something that has to be woven into a team’s cultural fabric. It does not just happen. An excellent example of a team solidarity was the 2008 Boston Celtics. Ubuntu was their team mantra. The term means "I am because we are." Originally, the word was a Bantu term utilized by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. It served as a powerful rally cry against apartheid. Doc Rivers employed this terminology as his team’s unifying force. In 2008, Boston really was a brotherhood. Each player was what they were because of those around them. It was, figuratively and literally, a philosophy that inspired a championship. Doc Rivers was even quoted in later years as stating, "Without that word our season could’ve been different." Without the huddle break 1,2,3 …Ubuntu, maybe there would be no Banner #17 hanging in the rafters of TD Garden?
So where do the 2013-2014 Pacers fit?
Are they the 2012-2013 Lakers, a team that looked great on paper, but could not pull it together on the court? Or, are they the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics, a squad that played for each other in order to achieve a common goal? Hopefully, they are a little of both. A roster constructed to contend, and a group willing to do anything for the betterment of the team.
They may not have a unifying term like Ubuntu, but there is no question that the Pacers pass the chemistry test with flying colors:
"Everyone is [so] comfortable with one another that before our practice or our day starts, everyone in our locker room has a conversation with one another. We enjoy one another’s company outside of basketball." – Paul George
"These are my guys. You know I can’t see myself going anywhere else." – David West
"I think the biggest deal about it is the assumptions since I was coming back that there’d be a competition between us, when it’s actually the opposite." – Danny Granger
"I’m just coming in to play hard. Whatever coach decides to do, I think it’s a great decision. Me coming off the bench, Danny coming off the bench, either way, we’re deep. Whatever helps the team, that’s what I want to do." – Lance Stephenson
"Paul George wants to take the lead. I’m cool with that. We both been working. He knows I got his back. I’m gonna hold this defense down." – Roy Hibbert (via twitter)
The Pacers actions have, oftentimes, spoken even louder than their words. After eliminating the New York Knicks from the playoffs, all five of the Pacers starters went to the podium. It was an action that epitomized this era in Pacers history. Instead of constantly fighting for the limelight, the Pacers consistently play as one unit. They share the criticism and the glory. If one player has an off night, the rest of the team steps up. They are a team, in word, and in deed.
They are, in a sense, the Anti-Lakers. Just look at the proof of their team first behavior:
Danny Granger, who played only 5 games all season, presented Paul George with his Most Improved Player award.
There was no elaborate wooing meeting to entice David West to resign here. There was no need for one, because he wanted to be a Pacer.
The examples could just go on and on. Importantly, some of the current players have already tried to bring the new Pacers into the team first fold. This summer, Roy Hibbert asked Chris Copeland to help him judge the Area 55 auditions in Indy. Donald Sloan, Solomon Hill, and Chris Copeland were invited to the team workouts in California.
All of this evidence points to one thing – the 2013-2014 Pacers realize how important it is to build team camaraderie. They are built to compete now, but team chemistry is essential to contend for a title. They may not have the inspiration of Ubuntu, but one thing is sure: fans can count on the Pacers trusting in one another and playing team basketball.
Whether they win the 2013-2014 title is still unknown, but their teamwork and chemistry is already certain. It is part of what makes being a Pacers fan so easy.