The elite starting five that led the Indiana Pacers to consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals is no more and on opening night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the five is down to one.
Roy Hibbert remains a solitary reminder in the middle of the late playoff runs, ironically the one player reportedly on the trading block all summer. With Lance Stephenson in Charlotte, Paul George on the rehab routine, George Hill nursing a knee injury and David West still icing his ankle, the Pacers will likely trot out Luis Scola, C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey and Donald Sloan on opening night.
That looks discouraging until you look at the depth chart for the opening opponent. The Philadelphia 76ers care not about appearances and have a starting lineup brewing for Wednesday that has a COMBINED salary of less than $8 million this year, which is roughly half of what Roy Hibbert will make.
But the Pacers backcourt issues could create some drama over the first couple of weeks. Rodney Stuckey and Donald Sloan are the only two guards available and Stuckey is still iffy with a foot strain. Sure C.J. Miles can play some off guard, but that's it. Defense, three-pointers and Hibbert (not necessarily in that order) will be the Pacers only path to success. Check out this nice piece on Hibbert by Candace Buckner if you want to gather any hopes the Big Dawg will deliver this year.
Here's what Hibbert said about his struggles last season, apparently foregoing the whole 'I'm not talking this year' focus.
"From where I was early on in the year, I thought I was playing at a certain level and when things get a little difficult and we're losing, I was missing shots. I wasn't playing as well. Things move on," Hibbert says. "The coaches and the staff have to move on and Lance was playing tremendous, leading the league in triple-doubles. ...That was probably the hardest thing, I felt like I was holding myself back mentally and then I wasn't bringing it on the court physically.
"I was right here," he says, and extends his large hand from his chest, "and everybody else was just moving forward and I couldn't catch up."
Starting on opening night, Hibbert will be leading the way for the Pacers but it's not like a few friendly faces in the playing rotation will be out all year. Assuming the timetable for C.J. Watson (2 week) and George Hill (3 weeks) holds, we're not talking total disaster. Watson would miss 7-8 games while Hill will miss 10-11 depending on their return date. At least the Pacers won't have to deal with the spoils of a fast start this season.