The Pacers head into the offseason in far different fashion compared to last season.
Yes, LeBron James sent them home once, again in frustrating fashion without doubt. But the uncertainty that clouded the Pacers’ future for two months after the season ended last year, is not part of the offseason intrigue this year.
Instead, the Pacers move forward on solid footing with an established culture, fueled by the positive force that washed over the organization the moment Victor Oladipo strolled into the Fieldhouse last September.
On media day, it was apparent that Kevin Pritchard assembled a team with a collective chip on its shoulder. Newcomers Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic and Corey Joseph had been spurned multiple times by prior teams. Myles Turner and Thad Young had been spurned by Paul George as he publicly declared he had no help on the roster while in Indiana. They were the help that didn’t measure up for PG.
Of course, Oladipo was also on his third team and scoffed at the idea he had a chip on his shoulder before the season, instead describing it as a brick.
That collective spirit along with the vibe Oladipo created by enjoying wins but not celebrating them and absorbing losses as opportunities to learn but not overreacting to create any drama, made it easy for the team to jell and focus on what matters — getting better.
We’re not even talking about basketball stuff here, just the human interactions of a team full of new faces coming together under a new leader who was in sync with the head coach to create a winning environment.
That’s how a team expected to win around 30 games became a blast to watch as they approached a .500 season. By the end of the season, the Pacers dumbfounded the league and fans alike with 48 wins, leading the league by a mile in outperforming the Vegas odds for wins.
I for one was dreading this season after going to the first preseason game with an extremely light crowd even by preseason standards. It brought back serious flashbacks to the MurphLeavy days when mid-week games had the upper deck looking like the wall at Wrigley Field in June due to all the empty green seats.
It didn’t take long for the dread to turn to delight as this team was so easy to follow and root for both due to their effort on the court and their actions off. Again, no drama and all 15 pulling for one another as they played for one another. The bench reactions to big plays became a staple and it was all organic.
While it is exciting to think about the future and what this team may be like going forward, it will be hard to repeat what they had this year. Players need to improve and there will be changes to the roster which will bring about questions.
Can they maintain the esprit de corps?
Will new faces buy into the “feathery” culture Oladipo espouses?
Will increased expectations become a burden?
But those are concerns for another day. Today, following the disheartening loss to LeBron and Co., there are no concerns and only appreciation for what we enjoyed about the Pacers this season.
Plenty of links on the Pacers season coming to a close, so check em out: