The Indiana Pacers Biggest Mistake in the Past Ten Years

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Mistakes happen. We sleep in a little too late or we forget to do a project. But for us, mistakes are simply, just that – mistakes. For the thirty NBA teams, mistakes cost them, potentially, tens of millions of dollars, a playoff appearance, or even a championship. They have been riddled throughout history. It can be draft picks (Blazers fans know what this is like), it can be free agency (can I get an amen from Knicks fans?), or it can be virtually anything else (in the case of the Kings, EVERYTHING ELSE). Thus, we present the worst mistakes from each NBA team over the past ten years.

The Indiana Pacers Biggest Mistake in the Past Ten Years

Over the past decade the Indiana Pacers have been under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Larry Bird. Save for a short stint in 2012 Bird has called the shots for an Indiana team that saw themselves challenge for a birth to the NBA Finals. In the 2014 the Pacers came painfully close, losing to the Miami Heat in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The year prior were nearer to their goal, losing in game seven to Miami. For a few years they were the only legitimate contenders to the LeBron James led East. Unfortunately for Indiana, it was a time where James was at the height of his basketball powers. Indiana’s best player, Paul George, was young during these few seasons. Too young to be expected to carry his team over one of the greatest players basketball has ever seen.

Paul George’s Excellence

Bird could not have anticipated that George would become the player he is today. After all he was the tenth overall pick out of Fresno State and was seen as an elite defender and three-point shooter. No one anticipated him to have the following accolades at just 26 years old: three-time All-Star, NBA All-Rookie Second Team, Most Improved Player, three-time All-NBA third team, two-time All-Defensive Second Team and one-time All-Defensive First Team. George is a top 10 player in the NBA, and Indiana’s championship hopes rest with him, but it was not always so.

The Regretful Trade

The Pacers were originally built around Roy Hibbert and David West, with George as a supporting piece. After the 2010-11 season Indiana decided they needed more talent at the point guard position, and so traded away the 15th overall pick and Erazem Lorbek to San Antonio for the rights to George Hill. At the time Hill was a much sought after player coveted by many teams, and Indiana was seen to have won the trade. There was only one problem, the 15th pick turned into Kawhi Leonard.

At the time it made sense. Leonard plays on the wing, like George. Also like George, the San Diego State product was a defensive specialist. He was never seen as a guy who could carry an offence. Fast forward to 2016 and the 25 year old is averaging 21 points and 2.6 assists per game. In his first year Leonard shot a respectable 37% from deep but on a measly 1.7 attempts. Last season it went to 44.3% on 4 attempts per contest. He has taken over the reins from Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. He is better even than perennial All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.

Leonard is possibly the best defender in the association. In 2017 he has the chance to win three Defensive Player of the Year awards in a row. If that is the case he will be the first to do so since Dwight Howard. Think Scottie Pippen with bigger hands. His accomplishments also include: NBA All-Star, All-NBA First Team, two-time All-Defensive First Team, NBA All-Defensive Second Team, NBA All-Rookie First Team, NBA Steals Leader, NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP. Only Magic Johnson won the Finals MVP at a younger age, and Leonard earned it by guarding LeBon James throughout the six game series in 2014.

Consequences

Imagine a team featuring both Kawhi Lenard and Paul George. The two are amongst the most complete players in the NBA. Both can score inside and out. Either or can create for their teammates and themselves. Both are amongst the top five defenders in the league, and probably the first and second best perimeter defenders. The two can rebound and are obsessed with winning. Playing them together would be simple. Indiana could go big and play George and Leonard at the two wing positions, or play small-ball with either or at the power forward position.

The Pacers would be immediate contenders. Both players are suited to guard LeBron James (who has dominated the Eastern Conference for a decade). No team in either the East or the West (save maybe Golden State) could trot out two wings with the size and athleticism to compete with both. In fact few teams have the quality of player to guard one of them.

While George Hill was not a disaster in Indiana, nor was he even close to the caliber of player Leonard is. He was a respectable 12 points and 3.9 assists per game in his five seasons with Indiana. Hill defended vigorously and was a valuable floor spacer for the team. In a sense he was what George and Leonard were expected to be. Not horrible, but far from an All-NBA player. To compound the pain Pacers’ fans must feel, Hill is no longer with the team, having been traded to the Utah Jazz in the off-season. In return they received Jeff Teague, but he like Hill cannot touch Leonard.

Larry Bird must be kept awake at night and wonder what could have been.

 

 

Main Photo

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 27: George Hill #3 of Indiana Pacers drives the ball against Brooklyn Nets during an NBA game on December 27, 2014 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
(Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)