Everything that can be said about the 2021 Indiana Pacers has already been said, and we’re just two months into the regular season.
Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon are the stars, and this team is a G-League team without both of them healthy.
Myles Turner is what he is at this point; an elite shotblocker who can’t rebound and is such a liability on offense that no amount of involving him as a stretch 5 is going to change the fact that he’s just not a scorer. The sole upside of this is that his four-year, $72 million contract is just about the exact going rate for a fourth option with defensive upside, so he’s good for what he is. Any hope of him becoming a star is dead in the water.
Victor Oladipo was the heart and soul of this team. Then he got hurt. Then he got disgruntled. Now he’s gone, traded for nothing (unless Caris LeVert turns into something other than an injury-prone mediocre player whose Pacers legacy will end up being the three years of Thaddeus Young they got out of trading his draft rights.)
The bench is garbage. Aaron Holiday is a bust who is one of the worst shooters in the league, T.J. McConnell might just be the worst sixth man on any team with a winning record in the entire NBA, Doug McDermott lost his touch from long range (35.5 percent, which is below the league average of 36.8), Goga Bitadze is the worst NBA player to come out of Georgia since Nikoloz Tskitishvili, and the rest of the pieces are just roster filler.
The team wins a decent amount of the time against bad teams and almost never against good teams.
And the NBA Eastern Conference is three contenders and a bunch of space filler in the playoffs. Yes, Milwaukee’s 18-13 record doesn’t look like a Finals team, but they’re 1-3 in one-possession games, tend to win big when they win, and tend to lose close when they lose. Basketball Reference’s formula gives them an “expected W-L” of 22-9, behind only Utah (actual record: 24-6, expected record: 23-7) for best in the entire league.
Indiana is the 4 seed in a crowded pack of mediocrity in which just a game and a half separates fourth from ninth and 3.5 games separates fourth from twelfth.
How do you craft a new narrative out of any of that?
My heart goes out to Pacers beat writers who have to continually churn out compelling content for sites like 8 Points, 9 Seconds and Indy Cornrows.
My heart goes out to Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner, who broadcast games from an empty-due-to-COVID Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with no crowd energy to feed off of even when the team is winning and with the resigned hell of watching a mediocre team get its butt kicked by contenders when that’s on the night’s menu.
My heart goes out to Sabonis and Brogdon, two legitimate All-Stars who I wouldn’t blame for forcing a trade to the Lakers at this point. It’s got to be crushing to be a very good or even great player when the roster around you isn’t built to win and indeed would be a 15-win team in an 82-game season without you. No wonder Oladipo left.
My heart goes out to T.J. Warren, who should be healthy and starting but sadly got bit by the injury bug that constantly plagued him in Phoenix.
My heart goes out to Nate Bjorkgren, who finally brought the principles of modern NBA offense to Indiana only to find that the roster’s in no way competent to execute a modern NBA offense. That’s got to be soul-crushing for a coach, since the dingbats who call into sports talk radio only care about wins and losses and know nothing about the sport (I’m going to take a wild guess and guess there’s no overlap between sports talk radio callers and Pace and Space readers.)
You know who my heart doesn’t go out to? Kevin Pritchard, who let this roster decay happen on his watch and kept Nate McMillan coaching when that man should never be a head coach again any more than the likes of Byron Scott, Lionel Hollins, or Mark Jackson should be. He assembled a roster of breakable guys then hired coaches who love nothing more than to play their starters 36 minutes a game even in blowouts. That’s my one main objection to Bjorkgren—he shares that “run ’em into the ground and leave nothing for the playoffs” mentality of the likes of McMillan and Mike D’Antoni.
But most of all, my heart goes out to Pacers fans. We’re all slogging through a dull forgone conclusion of a season where this team will go 37-35, end up the 4 seed anyway because the East is a garbage fire, then finally, for the first time since 2016 (when Paul George carried a truly horrendous roster to the playoffs on his back), crash out in the first round of the playoffs for reasons that aren’t the fault of the coach.
I may end up using this Tuesday slot for more interesting content over the rest of the season. Because telling the same four stories about Indiana basketball over and over starts to wear thin, and honestly, the traffic numbers say none of you are reading.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching this team barf out subpar performances in an empty building because my love for the team’s greater than my regard for my own mental well-being.