It’s that time of the NBA calendar again when the league’s general managers respond to a bunch of questions, as compiled by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, about the best players, teams, coaches, and offseason moves. This season, even with Indiana once again running back nearly the same roster, the GMs had considerably more to say about the Pacers — especially with regard to the team’s latest coaching change.
A year ago, when asked which new or relocated head coach would make the biggest impact on his new team, none of the GMs voted for first-time head coach Nate Bjorkgren. By comparison, not only did Rick Carlisle win the same poll, earning a mammoth 64 percent of the vote, he appeared on more ballots than any Pacers player, also scoring high marks in the “best in-game adjustments” category, with a narrow second-place finish (27 percent) behind LA’s Tyronn Lue (37 percent). That said, despite also receiving votes for “which coach runs the best offense,” it’s interesting that Carlisle’s Xs and Os expertise wasn’t enough to curry consideration for “best coach,” as he was shutout in favor of Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, Phoenix’s Monty Williams, Utah’s Quin Snyder, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, and Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer.
In that regard, with Williams (50 percent), Spoelstra (10 percent), and Popovich (10 percent) also finishing among the top vote-getters in “best manager/motivator of people,” it seems as though connecting with players is starting to be valued more highly than or at least on par with tactical acumen — a notable shift, particularly given some of the reasons, stemming predominantly from human management, for why Bjorkgren was let go.
To that point, however, the Pacers also made a few other cameos in the coaching portion of the survey, with T.J. McConnell and Malcolm Brogdon both receiving consideration for “which current player will make the best head coach someday” and Lloyd Pierce, as a former head coach, earning a few spare votes in the “best assistant” category. In that way, while making strides in experience and innovation, perhaps the team can bridge any potential interpersonal shortcomings with the more balanced coaching staff and (hopefully) upgrades in vocal leadership among the players.
Aside from coaching, the only other Pacers who managed to garner any attention were Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson, both of whom registered votes in the “which rookie was the biggest steal in the Draft” category, along with Caris Levert, who a few GMs picked as a potential breakout candidate, in spite of recent trade rumblings.
Overall, as was the case at Media Day, when much of the attention focused on Carlisle and raving about the rookies, it seems as though the league’s executives have a favorable view of what’s new about the Pacers, but aren’t so much convinced that what’s the same about the Pacers, with the core still intact, will be enough to make a sizable difference in the standings. Instead, with only three percent of the total vote tally (4 points for 1st place vote, 3 for 2nd, 2 for 3rd, 1 for 4th) predicting the Pacers as a top-four team in the Eastern Conference, it looks as if someone on the roster is going to have to make a leap to convince the rest of the league that Indiana, as a team, is ready to make one as well.