The Indiana Pacers are a sinking ship right now. We saw glimpses of just that throughout the 2016-17 campaign that saw the team finish with a lousy 42-40 record and a first-round sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The ‘ship’ that is the Pacers took another big hit last Sunday when superstar Paul George informed the team that he will not be returning to the Pacers in 2018 when his contract expires — expressing his desire to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
Since then, there has been much speculation as to what team president Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers will do with George ahead of the upcoming season. At this point, it is almost guaranteed that fans have likely seen the last of George in a Pacers uniform, with a trade being imminent. Since his announced departure, a number of teams have reached out to Pritchard and the Pacers regarding a potential trade involving the 27-year-old forward. While no deal has been reached as of yet, you could place a heavy bet on George being with another team come the start of the 2017 season.
Here’s where things get a little interesting, though. The worst thing that the Pacers can do in this situation is panic and attempt to make a number of seemingly costly signings this offseason in an effort to remain competitive in a weak Eastern Conference. Rather, Pritchard should embrace the direction that the franchise is heading for next season and prepare for a full-scale rebuild.
If there’s one thing that can be taken away from Larry Bird’s tenure as team president before stepping down this past May, it’s that the word “rebuild” was almost foreign to him. Bird’s competitive fire that he possessed throughout his playing career carried over into his front-office role in Indiana, and those Pacers teams of the mid-2000’s suffered as a result of that kind of mentality — winning 40 games just once between 2005 and 2010 while remaining in a constant state of mediocrity. The ‘Malice at the Palace’ incident during the 2004 season, like now, resulted in the Pacers’ brass facing a rebuild, which probably took a lot longer than expected to get the team back on its feet. It took Indiana nine full seasons after the brawl to win just 45 games — which they accomplished when they won 49 in 2012-13.
The Pacers’ current situation reminds me of the similar incident that took place a few years back with Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. The Magic were coming off of six-straight playoff appearances from 2006-2012 with Howard being the centerpiece of the team. After his departure for the Lakers in 2013, the Magic have since struggled to find any sort of stability. They boast zero playoff appearances and have only reached the 30-win mark once (35 wins in 2015) since Howard left his former team in the dirt. The Pacers cannot afford to resort to this level of mediocrity, even amidst a conference where you can make the postseason being .500 or worse these days.
Pritchard needs to not only be cautious with how he goes about his business this offseason, but also smart in rebuilding this Pacers team likely from the ground up. He already has a building-block in the 21-year-old Myles Turner, and just drafted another potential piece in UCLA’s T.J. Leaf. Now, it’s time for him to continue to clean up the mess that George is already leaving behind.
If there’s one thing that the Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks, or Brooklyn Nets have taught us over the past few seasons, the quickest way to lose fans in the NBA is by being consistently inconsistent and mediocre with no end of losing in sight. The Pacers can’t go down this path, and hopefully Pritchard keeps that in mind as he begins to reassemble this team moving forward.