Posts Tagged ‘Lance Stephenson’

No George, no Stephenson, but Vogel downright upbeat about Pacers


VIDEO: Pacers’ top 10 plays from the 2013-14 season

You see Frank Vogel for the first time since things turned really ugly for his Indiana Pacers team, your initial thought is to commiserate.

Then you hear Vogel talk about the Pacers and what awaits them in this 2014-15 NBA season, and your next thought is to apply a cold compress.

Vogel bounced through the early going at the annual coaches meetings in Chicago with a mile-wide smile and an optimism that had you wondering if, somehow, he had missed July and August. That’s when, in a span of two weeks, Indiana suffered a 1-2 gut punch in the form of Lance Stephenson‘s surprising decision to leave as a free agent and Paul George‘s gruesome, season-crippling injury at Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas.

Yet to look at and listen to Vogel last week, you’d have thought Larry Bird had dialed a time machine back three decades with the idea of reassigning himself from team president to starting small forward.

“We’re going to be fine,” Vogel said. “We’ve got more than enough to compete with the best and we’re going to have another great season. Our approach is, we’re going to try to not skip a beat.”

Vogel’s fingers were not crossed. There was no whiff of rum in the room, and he wasn’t talking in Comic Sans.

He continued: “Two guys being gone – Lance being gone, Paul not being with us because of injury – creates opportunities for other guys. Both at that position and also at other positions to carry a bigger role.”

Ah, OK, so maybe it was the whole interview thing. So you switched off the recorder, looked the Pacers coach in the eye and said, now Frank, how do you really feel?

“I really feel that way,” Vogel said. “I think we’re going to be OK.”

It was time to find a chair for Vogel. Or maybe several so he could lie down. Indiana, despite its 56-26 record last season and berth as the No. 1 playoff seed in the East, ranked 29th in offensive efficiency, according to NBA.com stats. The Pacers were 28th in field-goal attempts, 27th in assists, 24th in points per game and 23rd in offensive rebounding.

George and Stephenson, the team’s dynamic two-way wings, generated an outsized portion of that attack. They combined for 45.5 points and 28.2 shots per game, which was 47 percent of Indiana’s scoring and 35 percent of its field-goal attempts.

George would have been a starter for Team USA in its gold medal-winning effort in the FIBA World Cup tournament. Stephenson would have been a worthy NBA All-Star reserve in February and was expected to remedy that miss this season. Together, the two Pacers were the likeliest sources for some Indiana improvement offensively, while pestering opponents like Dobermans defensively.

Into the breach step retreads Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles.

“Those guys are solid NBA veterans,” Vogel said. “It’s not like we’re going to fill the spots with guys who were in the D League last year. And we feel [2013 first-rounder] Solomon Hill is going to be an elite defensive player and a guy who can knock down open shots. We could have played him 25 minutes a game last year and we would have been all right. We just had such depth.

Chris Copeland is going to get a chance to play more. Damjan Rudez, one of the best shooters in Europe, is coming over to play at the ‘three’ or the ‘four.’ So we’ve got answers. You look at that, combined with our point guard rotation’s intact with George Hill and C.J. Watson, our big rotation’s intact with [Luis] Scola, [Roy] Hibbert and [Ian] Mahinmi. There are reasons to be optimistic.”

Hibbert, for instance, has shed 14 pounds in a plan to be more mobile and not so easily shaken when a team with “stretch fives” like Atlanta vacates the middle. Hibbert also spent a week immersed in court time, meals and movies with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, adding the NBA’s all-time leading scorer to his list of illustrious tutors (Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan). Hopefully the Pacers center and The Captain screened film other than “Airplane!” and “Game of Death.”

It’s understandable that Vogel might want to stay upbeat, because the alternative wouldn’t do him or his team any good. His biggest concern is defensively, where Indiana has excelled in recent seasons. Hibbert still is the anchor at 7-foot-3 but in George it lost a Scottie Pippen-like shadow for the other guys’ most dangerous point guards and wings. Covering for that with double-teams and help might stress the seams of the Pacers’ schemes overall.

Stephenson did more defensively, too, than just blow in guys’ ears. It seems reasonable to think that, had George’s ghastly leg fractures happened before Stephenson signed with Charlotte, the Pacers might have kept him for a deal better than the three-year, $27 million one he accepted. Or that, given the dire need and urgency, Indiana might have upped its initial offer from five years, $44 million.

Still, if Vogel wasn’t about to bemoan the roster hits with which he’ll have to live all season, he wasn’t going to if-only himself into a blue mood over unfortunate timing.

There is, at least, some encouraging news on George.

“He’s on one crutch now – almost full weight-bearing,” Vogel reported. “He’s got a boot. He still has to have the one crutch. He’s doing really well.

“It’s a challenge for him. But he’s not coming in with a frown on his face, sulking around. He’s doing a lot – lifting weights, doing a lot of core work. He works out five times a week.”

The brink of a new season, on the heels of the FIBA gold medal in the first year of his five-season, $91.6 million extension, makes this one of those tough emotional times for George. He’s stuck on the side as the Pacers prepare to tackle 2014-15 without him. Presumably without him anyway, with George a long shot to return any sooner than next fall.

“I was concerned about it when it first happened, where he was going to be [mentally],” Vogel said. “It’s going to be a long process, once he starts getting out running and learning to trust [the leg] again. But he seems to be of the mindset that his expectations are for a full recovery, and a full recovery as soon as possible.”

George has high expectations. His team now has lower ones. That might explain some of Vogel’s buoyancy: Indiana thrived on its way up, feeling underrated and overlooked in its pursuit of the Miami Heat, and only ran into trouble last season when it got far in front of the field with its 33-7 start.

Dialing down the projections and slipping back into the underdog role it knew so well might be a comfortable fit. Already the Pacers have proven wrong skeptics who suggested they take it down to the studs in a full-blown rebuild. Never was broached, Vogel said.

“Nope. There was some talk about ‘Can you believe people are saying that? Do they understand how long it takes to build a winning culture?’ ” he said.

“We have enough to be really good. Are we the preseason favorites to win the East? No, we’re not anymore. Some fans think the season’s over already. But some fans are like me, like, ‘Hey, they’ll still be pretty good.’ “

The Pacers will find out soon enough, with neither Vogel’s cheeriness nor Kool-Aid at the concessions stands covering up the results on the Fieldhouse court.

Morning Shootaround — September 6



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.

***

No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

***

No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

***

No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors. NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

***

No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.

When triple-doubles are not enough

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren't enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Usually a triple-double is a cause for celebration, a sign of an all-around great performance by a player that leads his team to victory.

Then again, there are times when even the best efforts of one man just aren’t enough. Here’s a look back at the heartache of 10 triple-doubles from the 2013-14 season that just couldn’t push their teams over the hump:

10. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

April 4, 2014 vs. Philadelphia 76ers — 11 points, 11 rebounds, 16 assists

It had been nearly 15 months since Rondo last rolled out a triple-double onto the parquet floor of the TD Garden and that one, back on Jan. 25, 2013, was mostly memorable as the game he suffered a torn right ACL and was lost for the season. This one didn’t produce nearly that kind of disaster, but Rondo’s line was wasted as the Celtics watched — who’s that? — Henry Sims go off for a career-high 24 points to lead the Sixers to a 111-102 decision and snap a 13-game road losing streak for Philly. It was Boston’s seventh consecutive loss.

9. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

December 18, 2013 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 11 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

After missing the preceding two games with a sprained ankle, Evans was champing at the bit to get back onto the court. He came off the bench to put up his good-looking numbers, but most of them came after the Pelicans had already given up any real chance of competing in a 108-95 loss. Despite Evans’ second career triple-double, the headline performer was Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan, who posted 15 points, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots for his 12th double-double of a young season.

8. John Wall, Washington Wizards

April 9, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 14 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists

On the surface, it was a solid line for Wall. But toss in his 12 missed shots (6-for-18 in the game) and you could say that he had a quadruple-double. We’ll barely even mention his five turnovers. While it goes down in the books as the third triple-double of Wall’s rising career, it was also a night when the All-Star point guard couldn’t get the job done in front of the home crowd. The Wizards were 0-for-8 in overtime of the 94-88 loss to Charlotte.

7. Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers

January 30, 2014 vs. Phoenix Suns — 14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Stephenson would go on to lead the league in triple-doubles with five and this performance was already his fourth of the season. But it wasn’t enough to hold off the Suns, who simply seemed to have the number of the Pacers. After opponents reached 100 points just six times in the first 40 games against Indiana, the Suns did it twice in a little more than a week to sweep the season series, this time by the score of 102-94. Stephenson’s fourth triple-double tied the franchise record set by Detlef Schrempf back in 1992-93 and he would eventually break that mark as the Pacers’ season was breaking down.

6. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

March 10, 2014 at New York Knicks — 23 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

These were the dog days of the season for the Sixers, when even a solid triple-double from their Rookie of the Year point guard Carter-Williams couldn’t save them from a 17th consecutive loss, 123-110. That streak would eventually grow to 26 as the Sixers tied the all-time record for uninterrupted fruitlessness. The Knicks played without their injured center Tyson Chandler, but rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the bench to pop in 28 to lead the way.

5. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

April 3, 2014 vs. Dallas Mavericks — 25 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists

It was another strong start by Griffin as he scored 10 points in the first quarter for the 18th time on the season. He finished with his only triple-double of the season as the Pacific Division leaders ran out of gas down the stretch and went down for the first time at home in six weeks with a 113-107 loss to the Mavericks. The most troubling event was Griffin, who’d been suffering from back spasms a few days earlier, rolled his ankle late in the game. The fear was that he was wearing out as the playoffs approached.

4. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

December 3, 2013 at Philadelphia 76ers — 26 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Imagine that. A rookie just six months into his first NBA season runs up the first triple-double of his career and he doesn’t even get top billing or to celebrate a win. Oladipo’s Magic fell 126-125 in double overtime to the Sixers and the 27-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist game from rookie Carter-Williams. Oladipo, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, was the choice of many to win Rookie of the Year honors, but No. 11 pick Carter-Williams beat him out there, too.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

March 9, 2014 at Los Angeles Lakers — 27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists

There’s usually not much that’s going to steal the thunder from the league’s leading scorer when he rolls to 27 points and a triple-double. Then again, Jodie Meeks doesn’t usually shock the world with a career-high 42 points, while dropping in a half-dozen bombs from behind the arc. It was Durant’s third triple-double of the season and sixth of his career, but just not enough in a 114-110 shocker against the Lakers. The trouble was a miserable shooting day by OKC as they connected on just 42 of 100 shots and only 12 of 35 from 3-point range.

2. John Wall, Washington Wizards

January 22, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics — 28 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists

With all-time greats Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge — 1978 teammates the last time the Washington franchise won a championship — looking on from courtside, All-Star Wall put up impressive numbers, but couldn’t hit enough shots in a 113-111 overtime loss to the Celtics. With backcourt mate Bradley Beal medically-restricted to just 30 minutes, Wall made 9 of 29 shots from the field and ran out of the gas in the extra period. It was the first triple-double for Wall since Nov. 10, 2010, six games into his rookie season.

1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

April 29, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 30 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists

If you spot Westbrook 30 points and Durant 26, that usually equals a Thunder victory. But in Game 5 of what was quickly becoming an all-time playoff classic, it was Mike Miller‘s five 3-pointers and a Serge Ibaka putback that was about a half-tick too late that made the difference as Memphis squeaked out a 100-99 win. It was the fourth consecutive game of the series to go to overtime, an NBA playoff record. Westbrook secured the ninth triple-double of his career, but made just 10 of 31 shots to get there. Durant missed the back end of a critical pair of free throws with 27 seconds left after referee Joey Crawford suddenly ran in and took the ball out of his hands. The Thunder went on the win the series in a Game 7 rout, which was also powered by a Westbrook triple-double.

The buzz is back in Charlotte


VIDEO: Hornets unveil new court

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA has Rip City, Motor City, Lob City and Loud City.

Now get ready for Buzz City in Charlotte.

They’re back. Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.

“I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

The Charlotte Hornets joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1989, built a strong fan base and had a pretty good team that made the playoffs seven times from 1993 to 2002. After the franchise left for New Orleans, the NBA awarded Charlotte another team and the new owners christened it the Bobcats. Actual bobcats are found in North Carolina, but it was often said that the “Bob” in Bobcats was a self-tribute to then owner Robert L. Johnson. Unfortunately, the new team was bad and interest in the Bobcats never materialized. Michael Jordan became majority owner in 2010. Even the game’s greatest player couldn’t pump life into franchise or the fan base. The Bobcats were perennially in the bottom 10 in attendance, sometimes in the bottom five.

Once the Hornets name became available, Charlotte officials immediately began internal discussions about reclaiming the team’s lost identity.

“We embarked on an extensive research project to really find out what that name meant to the marketplace, and then not only that, how actionable would it be?” said Guelli, hired away from the Buffalo Bills in 2009. “It seemed like it was the right thing to do to bring the name back. But how would people respond to it?”

Harris Research was brought in to conduct an extensive survey of the greater Charlotte area.

“The point was to find out how did they feel about the existing name, what kind of an attachment did they have to the previous name, what were their attachments to the colors, how about the history around the players,” Guelli said. “And then a lot of actionable data, like, ‘How does that pertain to how many games you might attend? How much more likely would you be to watch a game? How much more likely would you be to purchase merchandise?’

“That data was so strong. I’ve been involved in a number of research projects in my career, but to see 80 percent in favor of bringing the name back was pretty strong. And as you drill deeper into the data you found out that not only did people want it back, that they would respond to it once it came back.”

They were convinced. The name Hornets had to come back. Charlotte quickly announced its intention to pursue the name, and soon after the league’s board of governors stamped their unanimous approval.

A four-person team was assembled, kept small purposely to better keep their plans and designs confidential. The group included Guelli, team president Fred Whitfield, senior vice president of marketing Seth Bennett and vice president of marketing Josh Kramer. They would work closely with Brand Jordan and the NBA on all elements for the rebrand.

It was a full-on sprint to design new logos, primary and secondary marks, new uniforms and the pièce de résistance, a court that epitomized their entire effort.


Gallery: New Floor, New Buzz (Photos courtesy of Robbins Sports Surfaces)

“We probably had 10 or 12 iterations of the [floor] design, various looks, and we probably incorporated elements of many of them to get to the final result,” Guelli said. “There just were a number of different elements that we wanted to incorporate to get that final feel: How strong should the cell pattern be? What should the border colors be? What are the logos that should be on the court? What brand do we want to use in the center of the court?

“What was important to us was to really kind of create this DNA of a new Hornets brand and have it integrated into everything we do, and that’s where the discussions around the cell pattern on the court started. There’s a lot of iconic courts out there, courts that you would recognize even if you took the logos off. We started to think about what we have as an asset that could help us do that, and that cell pattern was consistent through a number of our other design elements.”

Once they settled on a final version, it had to be TV-approved by the NBA. A court’s no good if its shades and colors detract from the TV product. Using a sample portion of the court and a few employees recruited to don Hornets uniforms, the NBA turned on the cameras. The Hornets had a fallback strategy, a “little less aggressive” court design, but crossed their fingers the honeycomb court would pass with flying colors. It did, and the NBA gave the green light to get it done.

Robbins, Inc., out of Cincinnati, was commissioned to build the floor. The company boasts that it has built basketball courts for 21 out of the past 25 NBA champions and for more than 90 percent of the league’s 30 teams. But it had never taken on a task quite like this. The intricate nature of the cell pattern made it a uniquely painstaking process. More than 250 honeycomb-shaped stencils were used to create the stain pattern which was manufactured and finished at the Robbins flooring mill in Ishpeming, MI.

The 7,000-square-foot court, which is made up of 200 sectional panels, each of which are 4-feet by 8-feet and weigh approximately 175 pounds, took nearly three weeks to manufacture, and once set up, the honeycomb graphics took three more weeks to complete. Buzz City logos are painted at each end of the floor.

The Hornets unveiled the court to nearly 6,000 fans in late June. A video of the unveiling went viral. But before that, when the final honeycomb was stained and the arena was empty and quiet, Guelli walked up to the suite level nestled between the lower and upper levels and peered down. And smiled.

“I was just thrilled. I don’t think it could have come out any better,” Guelli said. “What we were really trying to accomplish is when people walk into the building for our home opener October 29, they need to realize that they’re walking into a completely different place. It’s not what the building was before. This is the new era of the Hornets and we knew the court was going to be the centerpiece of that, so it had to be something very special that people would identify with our brand. I think we accomplished that.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Buzz City is alive.

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> With so many new coaches — all but two teams have had at least one new coach in the last six years — is there anyone out there in danger of getting canned this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So you’re suggesting Scott Brooks suddenly has job security and is free from speculation about his continued employment? Well, that would be a first. Look, no coach is entirely safe once a team gets to the point of needing to do … “something.” If the roster and payroll are locked, people start to look to the sideline. Brooks and Kevin McHale both are working in environments of impatience, with the Thunder and the Rockets antsy for bigger prizes by now. Memphis’ Dave Joerger already was out of his job once — on the brink of being hired by the Timberwolves — but he went back to what might not be the most stable gig under owner Robert Pera. And since no team is facing expectations more goosed than Washington, a slow or even middling start by the Wizards could have folks looking cross-eyed again at Randy Wittman.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What if Jason Kidd quickly concludes that he doesn’t like it in Milwaukee and decides to stick a knife in the back of another coach for a different job? But seriously, this is the modern NBA, where patience and reason are always in short supply. Frank Vogel won’t get a totally free pass if he can’t at least keep the Pacers battling and competitive in the absence of Paul George. If New Orleans can stay healthy, Monty Williams will be under the gun to at least get the Pelicans back into the playoff race. And keep an eye on Kevin McHale, in the final year of his contract in Houston, with a Rockets team that now has fewer weapons.

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not only are there so many first- and second-year coaches out there, but coaches like Washington’s Randy Wittman, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Portland’s Terry Stotts all signed extensions so they’re seemingly safe if their respective clubs were to take a step back. In the East, Indiana’s Frank Vogel certainly seems vulnerable after last season’s fade, but the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to injury could alter thinking there. Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn will be working with an extraordinarily young team so not sure what can be expected there. In Milwaukee, I suppose Jason Kidd will determine his own fate. Out West, most everything is either well-established or brand new. But there are a couple situations to keep an eye on. Monty Williams’ future could get muddied if the Pelicans don’t rise up, assuming good health, and Sacramento could lose patience with second-year man Mike Malone if the Kings stumble early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bucks. Oh, you mean where the general manager fires the coach, not the other way around. Never mind. In that case, let’s see how new best buddies Dave Joerger and Robert Pera get along in Memphis if the losses start to fly. Maybe it doesn’t happen — the Grizzlies could be good. If not, though, how long before old tensions return?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I wouldn’t put anyone’s job in danger in this space, but Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale and Monty Williams need to deliver better results this season. Brooks has done a great job in Oklahoma City, but this is now his seventh season and Sam Presti needs to decide if he’s the guy to get the Thunder over the hump. McHale lost some of his roster’s depth this summer, but needs to coax a top-10 defense out of a team that features Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard. And speaking of that end of the floor, Williams has a defensive rep and a beast of a franchise player, but New Orleans has ranked 28th and 25th defensively the last two seasons. With the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans need to make a big leap on that end.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After the way Larry Drew was treated in Milwaukee, anyone not named PopovichRivers, Spoelstra, Van Gundy or Saunders has to at least be on alert that a change could be made under extreme circumstances. Coaches no longer have to be concerned only with external expectations impacting their job security. These days the perception from within (Mark Jackson in Golden State) can get you whacked suddenly. That’s why both Randy Wittman in Washington and Monty Williams in New Orleans will operating under unique circumstances. Both teams will be expected to be considerably improved from last season, not only in the win-loss column, but in the larger context of the league hierarchy. Even with an extension signed, Wittman cannot afford for his team to take any steps back. The Pelicans will be led by one of the brightest young stars in the league in Anthony Davis and will expect to at least be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture, albeit at the bottom of that rugged top eight mix. If at any point it becomes clear that these guys cannot get their teams to the next stage of development, the coaching hot seat will have two prime candidates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Even though so many coaches are still in that honeymoon period with their current teams, it seems like something crazy always happens. Who would have thought Jason Kidd would end up in Milwaukee, or that Dave Joerger would almost end up in Minnesota? Neither of those guys were fired, though, but I wouldn’t say the hot seat has completely cooled off. All it takes is for one owner to be unhappy with his team’s performance or placement in the conference — particularly in regard to wherever that owner believes they should be. I am not saying this will happen or should happen, but will ownership in Sacramento, where they are desperate to be competitive, be patient with Mike Malone? Will the Rockets continue to allow Kevin McHale to build what they’re working toward? I hope so. It would be nice, for a change, to have a season without any firings/hirings. I’m just saying, don’t bet on it.

Blogtable: Flourishing in a new place

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

> Which player who already has switched teams this offseason will best flourish with his new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m surprised there isn’t a “besides LeBron” qualifier on this, since James outflourishes pretty much everyone every year. He’s my easy answer in his first season back in Cleveland. After that, the guy who ought to flourish most is Lance Stephenson, since he’s a little older (presumably a little more mature) and will get every opportunity to be Charlotte’s go-to guy. But I’m not sure I trust him yet to fully “get it.” So I’ll say Spencer Hawes, Clippers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you are the best player in the game, you flourish wherever you go, which is why the easy answer is LeBron James, the returning, conquering hero who will put the Cavaliers immediately into title contention in the Eastern Conference.  But I also think Pau Gasol is a perfect complement on the Bulls front line with Joakim Noah and I’ve got an eye on the venerable Vince Carter, who could be the wing scorer that lifts the Grizzlies into the upper half of the West race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m going a bit off the radar here with Jameer Nelson in Dallas, a re-tooled team that believes it could be top-four in the West. He’s been in such a tough situation the last few seasons, from the “Dwightmare” to Stan Van Gundy‘s firing to a total rebuild, that getting to the veteran-laden Mavs will be a breath of fresh air. Plus, he’s a great fit. Dallas badly needed a starting point guard after losing Jose Calderon in the Tyson Chandler trade. Nelson eliminates the need to start Raymond Felton and allows Devin Harris to come off the bench. Offensively, Nelson just has to be steady. He’s got weapons all around in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Defensively he’ll provide some much-needed tenacity. Nelson’s only 32 and with good health he very well could put himself back on the radar.

Lance Stephenson (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson joins Charlotte for the 2014-15 NBA season. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson flourished last season in Indiana, so it’s not like this will be a breakout season. But the move to Charlotte opens possibilities he will reach a new level, certainly statistically beyond the 13.8 points a game last season. It lines up as a perfect opportunity. He will be especially motivated to prove the Pacers wrong for not spending more to re-sign him, and now Stephenson goes to a team that needs more scoring. He can do that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Other than LeBron James, right? Lance Stephenson looks like a great fit in Charlotte, with the ability to give their offense a boost. He’s improved dramatically over the last two seasons, will still be only 24 years old when training camp opens, and likes to get out on the break, where his new team wasn’t very effective last season. With a top-10 defense, Al Jefferson, and now two guys who can create off the dribble, the Hornets will be fun to watch … and very good.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I like how you excluded Kevin Love from this question, keeping us all from picking the same guy. And I’ll even refrain from choosing LeBron James, the most obvious choice of the century. I think Pau Gasol will ease into an opportunity to recharge his career. He looked worn out and worn down during his final seasons in Los Angeles. He’s still an unbelievably skilled big man with plenty left in his tank. The idea of Gasol and Joakim Noah working in tandem with a healthy and rejuvenated Derrick Rose should have folks in Chicago fired up. Gasol is free from the pressure of trying to be something he was not in Los Angeles. Expectations went through the roof for him after winning back-to-back titles alongside Kobe Bryant. When injuries and uncertainty changed the mood in LA, Gasol struggled with that burden. Rose and Noah are the leaders in Chicago. All Gasol has to do is what he does best, and that’s play the game he loves without any extra Hollywood drama involved.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the player who has the best chance to make an immediate impact is Pau Gasol. The last few years he’s slipped defensively, but in Tom Thibodeau’s stifling defensive system in Chicago, they should be able to game plan around Pau’s deficiencies and get the best out of him. But it’s offensively where I think he could really shine. Gasol is on record as preferring to work in the post, which is probably fine with the Bulls as Joakim Noah is so effective at the top of the key, giving Gasol plenty of room to operate down low. And Gasol and Noah are probably the two best passing big men in the NBA, and together, with Rose and Butler and other guys cutting off of them, this may be the first time in a while the Bulls will be able to mount a powerful attack on both ends of the court.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: You mean “which player that hasn’t won two rings, isn’t considered the best around the globe and isn’t having a good time in Greece right now”? When you have LeBron James changing jerseys, then you have the answer in all your questions.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: There’s been plenty of positive cases of players moving on in free agency with the opportunity to flourish with their new team. If I have to pick one, I’ll take Pau Gasol after signing with the Chicago Bulls. Gasol’s last few seasons in LA were tough, albeit productive, and now he can find himself on a team that really values his skills. I’m looking forward to seeing his partnership with Joakim Noah. They could legitimately become the best-passing big man duo in the NBA. Gasol’s varied offensive game will get the opportunity to shine in Chicago because he’ll be playing with an unselfish center in Noah. He has a nice back-to-the-basket game with varying moves, he’s still a decent mid range shooter and as always, he’ll look to set up his teammates. Gasol’s ability to operate and pass in tight spaces will work perfectly with Noah. The Bulls’ offense will look less cramped with four perimeter players surrounding one pick-setting big in Noah. They’ll be a lot better to watch offensively in 2014-15 and a lot of that is down to Gasol.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Lance Stephenson will surely relish his role with the Charlotte Hornets. He will be one of their main ball-handlers and creators. Stephenson has showed flashes of overall dominance when he gets it going and he will have more chances to prove his worth with his new team. Also a trio of small forwards will be do well in their new teams, that would be Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons for the Wizards, Rockets and Mavericks respectively. Pierce will be the veteran leader Washington needs, Ariza will be the do-it-all forward for Houston while Parsons will hopefully be the second scoring option to Dirk in Dallas (or third, depending on where Monta fits in this year).

‘Melo says Knicks are a playoff team

Carmelo Anthony is putting in the work this summer to back up his words about the Knicks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Don’t count the New York Knicks out of the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference.

Not yet.

So says the face of the franchise, Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony is not only talking the talk, insisting that the Knicks will rebound from last season’s dismal 37-45 finish and return to the playoffs this season, he’s putting in the work to prepare himself physically and mentally for the rigors to come during the first full season of the Phil Jackson-Derek Fisher regime.

Fred Kerber of the New York Post caught up with ‘Melo and delivers the goods:

But the playoffs are another matter. In fact, Anthony on Monday asserted his belief the Knicks “absolutely” will be back in the playoffs after missing out last season.

“Yeah, I think so for sure. Absolutely,” an impressively slimmed-down Anthony said of the Knicks’ playoff chances before entering a Midtown gym for a late morning-to-early afternoon workout with a group of NBA players.

Anthony snuffed an attempt to establish any goals for the revamped Knicks, who will enter their first full season under team president Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher.

“I can’t wait to get started,” said Anthony, who missed the playoffs for the first time in his career when the Knicks stumbled to a 37-45 record last season. “No goals. Not setting any goals, but I just can’t wait to get it back on.”

Whether this is just a star player exhibiting the expected confidence in himself and his situation or ‘Melo channeling the power of positive thinking is irrelevant. Knicks fans should love what they are seeing and hearing from ‘Melo. He’s either all in with the new program in New York or a better actor than anyone on Broadway.

There are plenty of factors in the Eastern Conference conspiring against ‘Melo and the Knicks.

LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, who are expected to add Kevin Love to their mix in the coming days, have forced a complete reshuffling of the playoff deck. If what we’ve seen from Derrick Rose this summer is any indication, the Chicago Bulls (with Pau Gasol now on board) will also force changes at the top.

The Indiana Pacers are expected to tumble a bit with the losses of both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency). But the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets are poised to move up in the standings. The East’s defending champs, the Miami Heat, have Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade ready to hold the line sans LeBron and remain in the projected playoff mix.

That leaves a narrow opening for the handful of teams (led by the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Knicks) vying for those final precious playoff spots. I don’t know that Anthony’s confidence is warranted, especially given the 2013-14 season he and the Knicks endured.

But the bravado is good to see and should be welcomed by folks who like to see the best players embrace the super-sized expectations that come with playing in New York. Whatever the Knicks do this season rests on Anthony’s re-sculpted shoulders. If his personal transformation is any indication, and if his confidence has infected the locker room, the Knicks could very well find their way into the playoffs.

It won’t be easy, of course. And it’ll take some luck of some sort along the way.

It’s the offseason, everybody … well, almost everybody believes deep down that this is going to be their year. Even if they are completely delusional, they believe in August.

‘Melo is no different. And he’s got a 54-win season from two years ago as a reminder of what the Knicks can do when they are clicking. Some of the faces have changed and the system will be different from what the Knicks operated when coach Mike Woodson was calling the shots.

But if ‘Melo says the Knicks are “absolutely” headed back to the top eight mix in the Eastern Conference, I see no reason to dismiss the notion now.

It’s like Kevin Garnett once famously said: “anything is possible!”


VIDEO: Knicks.com highlights the top matchups for the 2014-15 season

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 171) … The Future!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What does the future look like for the Indiana Pacers?

The forecast is gloomy, even after a few sips of Rick Fox‘s homemade breakfast smoothie, which he needed to get through Episode 171 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Future.

Everything changed in an instant for the Pacers when their young All-Star Paul George went down with a compound-fracture of his right leg during last week’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas.

George could very well miss the entire 2014-15 season, and then some, recovering from the gruesome injury. And that leaves the Pacers, who also lost Lance Stephenson this summer via free agency, with huge holes to fill in their lineup with LeBron James (Kevin Love) and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Derrick Rose (Pau Gasol) and the Chicago Bulls hunting that No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.

We also talk about LeBron’s offseason weight-loss routine, Becky Hammon joining the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff, smoothie making and a plenty more on Episode 171 of The Hang Time Podcast … The Future:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

George injury shuffles East deck

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Long before the Indiana Pacers were dealt the wicked blow of losing All-Star swingman Paul George to a compound fracture of his right leg he suffered during Friday night’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, people were ready to write the Pacers off for the 2014-15 season.

The way the No. 1 seed Pacers finished last season, the wild swings in play throughout their run to the Eastern Conference finals, the upgrades that took place this summer in Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and elsewhere — all that already made it easy to assume that George and the Pacers would fall back to the pack.

But a Pacers team facing the prospect of playing an entire season without its leading scorer and best player — not to mention Lance Stephenson, who departed for Charlotte via free agency — shuffles the deck dramatically in the Eastern Conference.

A seriously wounded Pacers team makes it easier for LeBron James and the Cavaliers and a rejuvenated Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls to make up ground for that top spot. And if anyone knows what life is like without your superstar catalyst available, it’s the Cavaliers and Bulls.

When James left Cleveland for Miami via free agency in the summer of 2010, it devastated the Cavaliers, who didn’t recover until he decided to come home this summer via free agency. There was no way for the Cavaliers to compensate for the loss of the best player in basketball. No way.

The Bulls were able to remain among the Eastern Conference elite the past two seasons while dealing with Rose’s injury issues. But they’re the exception and not the rule when it comes to the loss of superstar talent, for whatever reason. And while they remained in the playoff mix, they couldn’t scale the mountain in the East without Rose and everyone knew it.

How Frank Vogel holds this Pacers bunch together in the face of this sort of adversity should prove to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2014-15 season. The Pacers have to brace themselves for assaults from all directions.

C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey were nice pick ups in free agency this summer. But they are not adequate replacements for either George or Stephenson. They certainly cannot be expected to deliver the 35.5 points, 14 rebounds or 8.1 assists George and Stephenson combined for last season.

Pacers veterans David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill will all have to take on more of the load, both on the court and off the court. The double whammy of losing Stephenson and then George no doubt makes that clear to the Pacers’ brass, who are right to make George’s recovery their No. 1 priority right now.

Pacers boss Larry Bird acknowledged as much in a statement released by the team (which can be seen in its entirety by clicking here):

“Our first thoughts are with Paul and his family. It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.

“There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back. Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.”

Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard got more specific with the Indianapolis Star on Saturday, expressing optimism that George will come back better than ever:

“What I’ve learned through this process is that it’s not [career-ending],” Pritchard said, when he spent time with George at the hospital. “It’s actually a good thing. It’s bone and bone only. It doesn’t look like any soft-tissue damage. We’re not trying to project when he’s coming back, just trying to get him through this week and then we’ll know more, but the biggest risk right now is infection. That looks really good right now. They just changed his dressing and it looks really good.

“I have no fear he’ll be back and back in a big way. We’re not going to put a timetable on it but I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll be back.”

The lingering question, of course, is what will the Pacers do in the meantime? What can they do to compensate for such a tremendous loss?

Those are questions that, quite frankly, do not have clear-cut answers right now.

What we do know is that the Pacers will have to fight for their playoff lives next season.

The last time a team that finished atop the conference standings during the regular season lost its top two scorers was when the Orlando Magic lost Nick Anderson and Penny Hardaway after the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, per Elias Sports.

After finishing with identical 33-17 records (Miami and Indiana were the other two teams), the Magic finished the 1999-2000 season with a 41-41 record and in the ninth spot, on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

I’m not ready to write the Pacers off before we know what their contingency plan entails. But they are mighty vulnerable now and until further notice.