Maybe you’ve heard. The Pacers are in for a loooong 2014-2015 season. One sullied with make-you-gag injuries and trade-him-now decrees. But do not fear. There’s still enough pizzazz on the roster to keep your interest. Here are just a few storylines to follow:
1. Who Emerges? Due to Lance Stephenson defecting to Charlotte, this question would’ve been relevant regardless of Paul George’s injury apocalypse. But it gets an added dose of intrigue with PG-13 out of the lineup indefinitely. There are plenty of suitors: George Hill, Roy Hibbert, Solomon Hill, C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, etc. And while the answer all of them would be nice, unfortunately in the world of sports, what you hope for rarely jives with reality. Regardless of how many or how few emerge, count this storyline as the one most likely to tickle the eye or gouge it with a 20-foot long harpoon.
2. Coaching Evolution: Isn’t "coaching evolution" just a fancy way of saying, "better offense wanted?" With a supposedly championship-caliber roster at their disposal, the Pacers languished in the bottom half of the league in several offensive categories in 2013-2014. Conventional wisdom suggests it’ll only get worse from here after losing two tantalizingly young talents, but what about these summer Pacers has been conventional? Given last season’s offensive disaster, is it possible a starless team centered on ball movement could out-produce last year’s version? It’s the kind of question Frank Vogel gets paid a lot of money to answer. On the plus side, he shouldn’t lack for motivation. He’s in the last year of his deal, and I’m sure he’s eager to prove the second-half debacle was a fluke. All eyes on the Toothbrush Kid.
3. The Trade Market: No Pacer saw his name thrown into the trade bin this summer more than Roy Hibbert. Well, Big Roy better get used to it. After six inconsistent years in Indiana, the Pacers appear to be willing to test his value. Whether that means he’ll actually be moved is unknown, but a bounce back year (half of year?) would certainly make him a more desirable commodity. I know many fans would like to put George Hill in the same category, but I’m not buying it. He’s still got three years left on his deal, and plays a dime-a-dozen position. Others to keep an eye on as the trade deadline nears? Expiring-contract superstars Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, and C.J. Watson.
4. Sharpen Your Draftnik Knives: Even Larry Bird admitted recently that the draft isn’t as exciting without a first-round pick. And that was after missing out on what was sure to be another "he would’ve been there in the second round" surprise. The hype of a top-10 pick might just make the throw-away season worth it. A top-five pick would mean Blue-and-Gold delirium. Needless to say, Pacer fans should start getting familiar with draft prospects. Imagining Jahlil Okafor in a Pacer uni may make those 30-point beatdowns to the Cavaliers more tolerable.
5. The Paul George Return? The Pacers have been fairly ambiguous when forecasting PG’s rehabilitation. There’s been a lot of backhanded optimism like "I don’t know how long I’ll be out…" (via Paul George), or "No one’s told us he’s going to be out for the whole year…" (via Larry Bird). You’ve got to think the longer they dance around a timetable, the more they’re opening themselves up for a "will he or won’t he?" Derrick Rose situation. As much as I’d hate to see that, I’d be lying if I said I'm not intrigued by a potentially healthy Paul George come playoff time.