‘Elite’ Pacers Ready To Rumble


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When coach Frank Vogel was thumping his chest about his Indiana Pacers this time a year ago, swearing to anyone that would listen that they would compete with the best of the best, most of us thought he was getting a little ahead of himself.

Sure, the Pacers were a solid young team, most likely a playoff regular for the foreseeable future. Perhaps they were even a team capable of contending in the Eastern Conference a few years down the line. But an elite outfit?

Not everyone was convinced. And lingering injury issues, namely Danny Granger‘s, kept them off of the 2012-13 preseason short list of championship contenders.

They’re in the middle of that mix heading into this season and eager to prove their elite status coming off of a season that ended in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat, sans Granger, in the Eastern Conference finals. Vogel, as confident as they come, doesn’t seem so crazy now. The Pacers belong on that short list this season, right behind the LeBron James-and Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat and right there with (and arguably ahead of) the Derrick Rose-and Joakim Noah-led Chicago Bulls.

“We’ve added a few more players with experience and our core group of eight or nine guys have improved,” said Granger, who is returning to the mix after playing five games in 2012-13. “We’re going to be a forced to be reckoned with honestly. As long as everybody stays healthy and everything … we’ve got a good team.”

When you can count four current or former All-Stars (Granger, Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West) amongst your ranks, not to mention quality additions like two-time former Spanish League MVP and veteran power forward Luis Scola, there is good reason for a collective confidence that borders on cockiness.

“We feel like we’re finally getting a little recognition, like we’re getting respected. We’re feeling elite now,” George said. “We always were a team on the outside looking in and now the tables have turned a little bit.”

That twist comes with some extra responsibility that was previously not a part of the equation for Vogel’s crew. It’s more than just raised expectations, it’s more like the pressure of incumbency. When you play deep into the playoffs in consecutive seasons, losing to the eventual champions in both instances, you know exactly where you stand.

“That’s why we have to be that team that’s ready every night.” George said. “We have to be that team that comes out and plays consistent every night, because teams are going to be gunning for us every night.”

Teams will do the same thing to the Pacers this season that they did to the Heat, Bulls and Boston Celtics while Vogel was pushing his team to claw their way up the league’s food chain.

The biggest difference this time around, though, is that there is a belief that the difference between the Heat and the teams chasing them in the East isn’t nearly as great as it was perhaps two seasons ago. The Pacers took note when James said last week that there is “tension” but the Heat have no rivalries in the Eastern Conference and when Rose suggested it would be a couple of years before the two Central Division teams could actually be considered true rivals.

“I think it’s wide open, a free-for-all in the East right now,” George said. “Remember we were just one game away. Had we done things better [in that Game 7], we might have won that series and gotten to The Finals. Who knows what happens? But we feel like it’s up for grabs. There is no clear-cut champion right now in this league or in the East. We just have to come out and prove it. Kick the rankings and all the talk aside and let our play do the talking. We just have to come out and do us.”

The Heat are obviously loaded for a three-peat … and most NBA GM’s think they’ll pull it off. Rose’s return means a Bulls team that was as dangerous as anyone in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season will likely be elite again. The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks loom as potential contenders, too.

But Vogel remains fixated on his team, their potential and the same things he saw in them a year ago. He sidestepped the rivalry talk between his crew and the Heat or Bulls, insisting, and rightfully so, that the Pacers just want to beat everyone in their path.

His concentration is on the continued fortification of the Pacers’ belief in themselves and the fact that they belong, on the things he saw in them early on in his tenure that led him to boast a bit — even before his team got in on the act.

“I like the number of two-way players we have, guys that are solid on both ends of the court,” he said. “I like our depth, I like our talent. Just look at our first five. I think George Hill could be an All-Star level point guard. Paul George has been an All-Star. Roy Hibbert has been an All-Star. David West has been an All-Star. Danny has been an All-Star. I think Lance Stephenson has the ability to be that level of player some day. I like our talent and how the pieces fit.”

And he’s a true believer.

“Belief is a critical element in success,” Vogel said. “Each of the last few years they’ve believed a little bit more and a little bit more that they can be a truly great team. And hopefully, that belief is as great as it’s been since I’ve been and we can have a great season.”


  1. Cripple Rapist says:

    I Agree with mcdp2013, Granger will destroy Pacers chemistry… Coming from a DWADE Fan… Paul George may grow faster if you let him compete against LBJ.. is SF position… putting him back along with granger could disrupt his potential… LBJ vs granger obviously LBJ, and DWADE vs George = tie… Dwade can lock down George If he really needs to… George scoring abilities may go down… benefiting the HEAT on that match up, while James will eat granger’s defense… Imagine Paul George battling with LBJ,Durant,Melo,Rudy Gay… The kid may learn something from those SF Allstars than matching him up with my man DWade… I’m a HEAT fan, but I like to see George in the future competing to be the BEST…

  2. sanjay says:

    spacers are a tough team no doubt. But they will have no answers if wade goes to work this year! pacers will not have any answers to rampaging lebron either! he can wreak havoc now in paint! Unlike last year regular season, heat are not gonna give them 3 regular games this time to have that confidence. Heat have retooled with sole aim of combating indiana!
    They are most likely to meet again in ECF!

  3. 3PEATontheWAY says:

    How about the Heat beating the Pacers with a healthy Granger+same team without BOSH and becoming eventual NBA CHAMP against the THUNDERS with KD+WB+HARDEN?HUH?HOW ABOUT THAT?GO GET AN ICE CREAM ^^

  4. Pedro says:

    Um, the Pacers are 0-2 so far against the bulls this yr without Noah and Butler. How are they “arguably ahead of” the bulls?

  5. Vern says:

    Hold up on the “elite” status. The Pacers have become a good team but imo, one good season doesn’t make you “elite. Now they do have just as good a chance as everyone else but they’re not above too many teams. The only elite team is Miami Heat. They’ve proved their case two seasons in a row. All others are chasing the dream. Paul George is a good up and coming player that took advantage of the team star going down.He got himself noticed. Now let him repeat his play or better yet improve his play for consecutive seasons.

  6. Jake says:

    I think the Pacers have as good of a chance as anyone. I remember when Danny Granger had to score 27-30 a game for the Pacers to have a shot at winning a game. People viewed him as a Super star because he was scoring all that much. I always viewed DG as more of a side kick, someone who would play better and benefit from a real Super Star like teammate. With that being said the Pacers do in fact have that in Paul George. To all of you that think Danny and PG can’t coexist, lets have a conversation at the end of the season and im almost certain you’ll be humming a different tune.

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      Danny Granger is most likely going to be traded for a PG… They were fine without him, adding him back in the mix will more than likely just ruin the chemistry that this young team has built without him. Granger would be a good addition on Houston or OKC

  7. mcdp2013 says:

    Pacers are a good team.. BUT, I don’t think they’ll win the big one and these are my reasons why they won’t do it:
    -They don’t have a point guard. George Hill is not a point guard (therefore is imposible to even consider him a potential all star point guard). He’s more of an undersized SG playing at the 1 because he just had to. Even CJ Watson is not a pure point guard and spent a lot of time last year with the nets playing alongside D-Will at the 2, spacing the floor. Heck, when he played PG with the bulls his decision making was below average. The pacers’ offense is just ugly and not having a point guard doesn’t help them at all.
    -Chemistry. This is Paul George’s team now. Forget about Granger. He’s a guy who needs to take a lot of shots (george’s shots) to be productive. George did an excellent job at the 3 and there’s no need to move him to the SG spot just so that granger can fit. That could mess a team that was functioning already very well without him. Stephenson’s defense and intensity is more valuable at this point. Besides, granger is breaking apart. He can’t stay healthy even in the pre season and we’re not sure how his knees are going to respond. In this case, I agree with Stephen A Smith: trade him for a true PG as soon as posible.
    -They don’t have a superstar (yet). Yes… Paul George was great last season. Had a breakout season, be he can’t have just another “good season” as he did last year averaging 16 ppg or so, he needs to take the next step right now and carry the team on his shoulder. He still has to improve his ball handling because at some times, he can be a turnover machine. Comparisons also don’t tend to favor him. They always compare him to scottie pippen, but guess what, scottie on his own couldn’t win a title for the bulls when michael retired for the first time. A scottie pippen-type player could be a great wingman for your main superstar, but I don’t think it fits well AS the main superstar. We’ll have to wait and see if Paul George can become a more consistent scorer and become a true star who can carry a team to a title.
    *You could make the case that “the pistons won a title without a superstar in 2004”, but hey… they had a POINT GUARD and a true floor general in chauncey billups ( andthere we go back to the first point I made).
    (I’m not a pacers hater and I’m not a heat bandwagoner either… just an NBA fan!!)

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      What your saying is true. However when it comes to playing the Heat, Indiana for some reason matches up well with the Heat, plus they are much bigger and better at rebounding than the Heat.

      • tyrone says:

        Well i do remember a couple of bulls teams that had a fellow named Ron Harper playing point—and if I am not mistaken they broke the nba games won record with him playing point. What I am saying is this–Hill is a shooting guard in a point guards body(but lets not forget that he cant pretty much score at will also)and he is an above average defender**just like harper**. All the pieces are in place—LARRY BIRD IS THE MAN!!!! He has showed the league how to do it the right way without killing your salary caps.

  8. S24 says:

    I am rooting now for Pacers to gun for NBA title. They have the pieces, great pieces. But they have to really really work very hard on it. its true that a high level of confidence and beliefis a factor in winning it all, but dont be fooled that youre already an elite. Just play hard, develop toughness physically and mentally.
    Few teams have had an opportunity to be this solid but failed to capitalized fully on their strengths.. hope this Pacers team would be different. And never under estimates every one of your opponents.

  9. Naphster says:

    Just beat the heat first in the conference finals before you call your team as elite in the east