Why the Indiana Pacers are Too Good to be Great

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Indiana Pacers were eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

It’s a tale as old as time. Indiana has a solid regular season where they end up with a middle-of-the-pack seed in the postseason, then proceeds to underachieve in a big way that results in an early trip home. Pacers fans have been living through this vicious cycle of mediocrity for close to two decades now. If avoiding the draft lottery is an accomplishment, then the organization deserves a gold star. They’ve made the postseason 15 times over the last 20 years. That’s tied for the second-most in the NBA in that span (only the San Antonio Spurs have more). That looks like a fantastic span of success on paper, one that any team would be over-the-moon about. There’s just one problem:

They didn’t make it out of the first round in 9 of those 15 playoff runs. 

Pacers center Myles Turner

For years there has been growing unrest in the fanbase. The one phrase I hear consistently when speaking to fans of the team is: “The Pacers are content with barely making the playoffs”. From the outside looking in it may appear ungrateful to have an issue with making the playoffs at a 75% clip, but there is a clear problem with the current state of the franchise. The team has not been able to get over the proverbial hump for as long as anyone can remember despite having teams littered with high level talent. This may come as a shock to some, but the Pacers have had 10 different All-Stars over the past 20 seasons (See if you can remember all of them, I’ll list the ten at the end of the article). To put that into perspective, the Los Angeles Lakers have had only six.

On the flip-side of that, Indiana has only had a single Top-10 draft pick in the last twenty years. That #10 Pick in 2010 was used to draft Paul George, the closest thing the franchise has seen to a superstar in that timespan (They also drafted Kawhi Leonard in 2011 before trading him to San Antonio for George Hill, but we don’t need to talk about that). One could argue that the franchise has never even had a superstar in its history. The argument could be made that George or 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Reggie Miller qualify as “Superstars” but neither showed that ability to lead a team to an NBA championship during their careers (Reggie was apart of a loaded Pacers squad that went to the finals in 2000 but I’d argue that speaks more to the talent and coaching on the team than his ability to be the best player on a title-winning team, but I digress). The only way that you are going to get a player of that caliber to stay on a small market team: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard (pain), Giannis Antetokounmpo, etc, is through the draft. How is the franchise supposed to draft that superstar to take Indiana to the chip’ when they are drafting in the middle of the first round every single year?

Former Pacers Head Coach and Team President Larry Bird representing the team at the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery.

What are the Pacers to do? Do they blow up the current roster and enter a rebuilding phase or do they go all-in on attempting to sign a big-name free agent this offseason? They have great building pieces/trade assests no matter what route they decide to take such as Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and Victor Oladipo (although Vic may be on his way out of Indy next offseason if reports from the IndyStar come to pass), but a decision needs to be made soon. The firing of Head Coach Nate McMillan (who has the worst playoff record by a H.C in NBA history) appears to be a step in the right direction, but we’ll have to wait and see if the future coach of the Indiana Pacers will be enough to get them over the hump and out of the revolving door of mediocrity that has tormented the fanbase for years.

For those who stuck around til the end: The 10 All-Stars the Indiana Pacers have produced this century are Reggie Miller, Dale Davis, Jermaine O’Neal, Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, and Domantas Sabonis. If you honestly remembered Dale Davis and Brad Miller without looking it up you get a cookie.

Follow Me on Twitter: @TrentOsborneFS

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