With training camp beginning for the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, the franchise will look to put behind them a disastrous 2014 offseason that shaped the team's expectations for their 2014-15 in one gruesome injury while still dealing with that reality through the winter and into the spring. The executive decisions for the Pacers in deciding to let Lance Stephenson leave and bringing in players like C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey may have tempered expectations for a team aiming to finally get over the LeBron James hump, but tempering expectations is a world differently than completely losing any hope with the loss of not only Paul George, but Ian Mahinmi for at least the start of training camp.
Leaning on Frank Vogel positivity is great and all, but with the release of ESPN's first Power Rankings list of the 2014-15 season, Marc Stein, along with just about everyone else, will need a little bit more than positive reinforcement to believe the Pacers are going to be anything resembling a team that won't "skip a beat." Stein ranks the Pacers 20th in his training camp rankings, which feels about right, as unfortunate as it may feel. About the Pacers, Stein said:
The proud Pacers will try to make the playoffs even after letting Lance Stephenson go and then losing Paul George in the most stomach-turning manner. Of course, since Indy resides in the East, it's not like there's a wide variety of options. You can only sink so far in that conference.
The "wide variety of options" Stein speaks of refers to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, which Stein expects to include the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Orlando Magic, but also division rival Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons. For as bad as things look for the Pacers, they may not look so bad that the Pacers are able to land a draft pick worth getting excited about, possibly the worst outcome of the season.
At 20th, the Pacers are slotted at 10th in the East, which would suggest the Pacers won't finish worse off than their 2009-10 campaign, their last trip to the lottery, when they picked 10th. Indiana got their home run pick that year, but it's worth remembering that team climbed up to 10th in the final month of season, running off a 11-5 finish when previously sitting at 21-45, 14th in the East, and fourth worst in the NBA after a mid-March loss to the Bucks.
Of course, compiling a training camp power rankings is entirely devoted to where teams finished last season to go along with how the moves made in the offseason are expected to shape the team. So it's no surprise the San Antonio Spurs and LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers are 1-2 with the Chicago Bulls pulling sitting behind in third place. The league as a whole is expected to see a continued lean towards Western Conference dominance as teams like the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, and Toronto Raptors are looking to see what kind of step forward they can make after returns to the playoffs for each franchise, but tasks for deep playoff runs will be much more difficult out West with a score of quality teams.
Six of Stein's top eight teams reside out West, no surprise including the likes of the Clippers, Thunder, and Trail Blazers, but also the Warriors, and taking a splashy offseason from the Mavericks into the top tier of the West. Indiana will certainly benefit from having to only play 30 games against the West, but it will certainly be a tall task on just about every night with the Grizzlies, Rockets, Suns, and even Pelicans lurking in the Western Conference.
As difficult as things may turn out to be for Indiana in the 2014-15 season, it's exciting nonetheless to be undertaking another NBA season, one where the Pacers get a chance to prove they're better than 20th in the league.