INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Pacers forward David West brought a reality check to media day.
Instead of discussing championship aspirations, playoff chances or goals, West carefully and continually steered the conversation toward what he sees as Indiana’s biggest challenge: life without Paul George and Lance Stephenson, the Pacers’ top two scorers last season.
“Paul’s loss is big, Lance’s loss is big. Obviously, you can’t anticipate what happened with Paul,” West said Monday, referring to the gruesome broken right leg George sustained in early August. “But you’ve got to give yourselves a realistic starting point. You can’t be talking about being a championship contender or whatever right now. We’ve got to talk about getting the best guys on the floor to compete.”
West is doing more than merely lower expectations on the eve of training camp.
In July 2013, the longtime NBA veteran re-signed with Indiana, agreeing to a two-year deal with the idea that he could help bring a championship banner to Indianapolis.
After Stephenson left for Charlotte in free agency and George was injured running into a basketball stanchion during the U.S. national team scrimmage in Las Vegas, a game West watched live, the Pacers’ vocal leader immediately knew things would be different for the two-time Eastern Conference runner-ups.
“That thought crept into my mind,” West said when asked about the prospect of not winning a title in Indy. “We’ve got to deal with what’s been put at our feet and deal with those obstacles and challenges.”
West, however, insists he has not lost hope. Neither has anyone else in the organization.
Coach Frank Vogel reiterated that there are enough good players on the roster to compete at a high level and even outperform the new expectations in what has become one of the league’s strongest divisions and in a conference that has become significantly improved with a series of offseason additions.
While some doctors believe George would be best served by sitting out next season to make a completely recovery from the compound fracture, George has said he remains hopeful of a return this season — something that has not yet been ruled out.
George did not take questions from reporters Monday, though he did limp from one end of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court to the other without crutches and participated in the annual pre-camp photo shoots in an encouraging sign of how much progress George already has made.
Compensating for the losses of George and Stephenson won’t be the only changes for the two-time defending Central Division champs.
All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who has faced scrutiny over some of his public comments the last two seasons, promised to keep most of his thoughts to himself. Guard George Hill also acknowledged the Pacers, who openly challenged then two-time defending champion Miami last season, needed to tone down the talk this year.
“I think this year we need to shut up a little bit and go out there and do our job,” he said.
The most obvious changes will be seen on the court.
While Vogel said the center, power forward and point guard rotations remain intact, he will experiment with wing rotations throughout the preseason. He’s hoping to find five wings, four of whom will be regulars in his 10-man rotation. The biggest benefactor could be shooting specialist Chris Copeland, who was used sparingly last season even though fans constantly argued for him to get more playing time.
Vogel also acknowledged that West, Hibbert and Hill all will have more prominent offensive roles and that he’s still fine-tuning his defensive game plan.
“It’s going to be a team approach,” Vogel said. “No one guy can do what Paul George does with his versatility.”
Or what George does on offense. And his absence will force Indiana to experiment with a variety of ideas and concepts in training camp, which opens Tuesday, and throughout the preseason.
“More than anything we have to be in reality,” West said. “We’ve all got to take on new roles and take on more responsibilities.”
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