The Indiana Pacers began the NBA offseason as one of the up and coming teams to keep an eye on, a potential darling of the league, poised to make a big leap back into the general NBA conversation after a a few hush-hush years that had national NBA observers averting their eyes.
Suddenly the storylines around the blue and gold are intriguing, interesting and worth rooting for in a Little-Engine-That-Could type of way by NBA media and fans (at least those outside of Chicago...and probably Detroit). Young, entertaining players developing better than expected along with roster flexibility and money to spend allows the Pacers to project a strong future without having to rush into any drastic moves.
More important than grabbing that general attention around the NBA is the interest shown locally from the ticket-buying public in Central Indiana which has been trending rapidly in a positive direction. People are begging to jump on the bandwagon and enjoy some good times at the Fieldhouse.
Yeah, about that last part. As far as the Pacers are concerned right now, those Fieldhouse doors are locked. Not only are the NBA players locked out, but if the labor issues aren't resolved by November, then those fans primed and ready to throw their full-throated support behind the Pacers will be locked out as well.
For that reason alone, I'd argue that the 2011-12 NBA season currently threatened by the lockout is more important to the Indiana Pacers than any other team in the league.
J.A. Adande makes the case that the Oklahoma City Thunder has the most to lose by not playing this season because of their young talent that is ready to compete for a championship. While it might be frustrating for the Thunder, they may actually benefit more from a lost season in the long run considering they have all of the young pieces in place so an extra year of maturity won't hurt, plus it tacks a year onto older championship contenders, as Kelly Dwyer notes.
The Thunder and their championship hopes aren't going anywhere and neither are their fans. I realize the Pacers aren't in the championship caliber class of the NBA and from a pure wins and losses, player/team growth aspect, a year off would have far less impact on the Pacers than several other teams.
But for the future stability of franchise as a whole, losing this season would be a killer. The coaching change and late season run to the playoffs and then the excitement generated by the Pacers' first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls, shook a lot of fans out of a deep malaise.
Now they're hungry for more, which was apparent at the draft party in June which attracted as many people as a mid-week game in the middle of last season. But if the lockout wipes out the upcoming seaon it becomes like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown for the fare weather set that are so vital to the team's long term success. If they can't get in the Fieldhouse this year, they'll still be at Colts' games and watching their preferred flavor of IU, Butler or Purdue basketball.
They're comfortable with the Pacers on the back burner of their entertainment life, or in some cases the back corner of the top shelf in the pantry. It will likely take another year to remind those fans that the Pacers are back and, oh yeah, fun to watch again. Herb Simon may indeed avoid losing money next year if the season is awash, but I'm assuming he'd like to not only make money in the future but have a vibrant, exciting franchise to be proud of in the years to come.
So considering the big picture, does any other NBA team need to play the 2011-12 season more than the Pacers?