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NBA AM: Pacers Not Sneaking Up On Anyone
Posted By Steve Kyler On October 22, 2012 @ 7:33 am In All,NBA | No Comments
Are The Pacers Contenders?: The Indiana Pacers haven’t shown up on many preseason top-10 lists despite finishing last season with the fifth-best record in the league. The Pacers pushed the Miami HEAT harder than almost anyone last year in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, yet they continue to be overlooked and underestimated.
That’s exactly how they like it.
New Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard, who was with the team last year through their unexpected run, says his team isn’t banking on last year but that they clearly liked what winning on a big stage felt liked.
“I would say this, they tasted a little success and they liked it,” Pritchard said to HOOPSWORLD with a coy smile. “That makes you hungry, like I’ve said before, there are a lot of hungry teams out there, you got to be willing to pay your dues and do it every night and I think we will.”
“I think Coach (Frank) Vogel sets the precedent for, ‘We want to be better,’” Pritchard explained. “Focus every day, every week, every month on just getting better. If we do that, we’ll be O.K.
Getting better in the NBA, especially when the teams around continue to add re-tool themselves isn’t a simple thing.
“It’s challenging. It’s a lot easier to say, ‘Hey, we’ll just get a little bit better, we’ll just work on getting better,’ because everybody is trying to do that. I mean, the East has got some tough teams: Boston, New York, obviously Miami, everybody is going to be shooting for them, Brooklyn, Atlanta, a couple of other teams are pretty good. It’s going to be a tough conference to play in. Chicago, they’re getting (Derrick) Rose back. It’s a tough conference and you got to play as a team and I think that’s the biggest thing for us. We have to play as a team, our chemistry is so important to us.”
The Pacers did not rest on their laurels last season. They made some trades and signed some major contracts this offseason including matching a maximum offer on Roy Hibbert and signing George Hill to a huge $40 million deal.
“What we always wanted is to have a good team and bring our starters back,” Pritchard said. “That’s what we really wanted. That was goal number one and we did that.”
One of the other things the Pacers did was bring in some high-flyers and explosive athletes to augment their starting core.
“When you’re talking about playing some of the elite teams in the East, you’ve got to be athletic,” Pritchard said. “You have got to be athletic at the rim. You have got to be athletic on the wing. D.J. (Augustin) and Ian (Mahinmi) really give us some of that athleticism. They have got to incorporate their games into what (our) guys have done and the starters have done. It’s still a process and we’re still working on it. We like what we’ve seen so far, but it’s a marathon.”
A common theme in the Pacers’ locker room this preseason is that they are not sneaking up on teams anymore, which makes getting out to a fast start this season important, especially with the number of early road games on the schedule.
For the Pacers to equal what they did last year, they are going to need thing to come together fast coming out of training camp and preseason.
“History proves that continuity is so important and for us right now, we haven’t had our starting five out there because Danny (Granger) hasn’t been out there, “ admitted Pritchard. “But a lot of teams haven’t. We’re looking forward to when we have our starting five, our regular rotation out there for many games, and then you can really evaluate what you have. Right now, it’s a little difficult because there are so many rotational players, different lineups, it’s hard to evaluate.
“I think what we have is some very good veterans and then we’ve got some up-and-coming players. Paul George, Gerald (Green) and Ian, I think those guys have the opportunity to get better. I don’t think they’ve plateaued. I don’t think they’ve made it where they want to be. As long as they keep making steps forward, we have a chance to sustain success and that’s what we’d like to have.”
The Pacers start their regular season on the road versus the Toronto Raptors and play 12 of their first 18 games on the road.
Indiana is not one of the teams that pundits and experts talk about as contenders, but based on how they finished the season last year and the additions they made in the offseason, overlooking them or writing them out of the discussion might be dangerous, especially for a team with some bitterness of last season still lingering around.
Up Close With David West:
Pacers forward David West was a key contributor down the stretch last year and one of the elder statesmen of the team. He is looking forward to the opportunity that lies ahead for Indiana this season, although he could do without a few of the preseason games.
David West talks with HOOPSWORLD about this year’s Pacers team.
Jimmy’ Big Break: When the Chicago Bulls drafted Jimmy Butler with the 30th pick last year, most Bulls fans had no idea who Butler was or why the Bulls spent a first-round draft pick on him.
This year, Butler is going to get a chance to show what he can do and, so far in preseason play, he’s trying to make the most of his opportunity.
“My role is to be a high-energy guy,” Butler told HOOPSWORLD. “Rebound. Lock up on the defensive end. If I’m scoring, it’s a plus. That’s good for me, but I definitely think defense is what makes me stand out.”
At times last year, Butler struggled with not playing and being more of spectator, but he says he used that time to learn the game and work on his body, which is starting to pay off in games and in practice. What do the Bulls want him to do this year?
“Continue to go hard,” Butler said. “Continue to guard and compete and hit the open jumper. Just be vocal and know everything and know the offense. I feel like that’s a key part. “
Butler says his goals for the season are just to be a good teammate, which comes off a little cliché, but it is that mindset that prompted Chicago to draft him.
“Just to play my best and do what my team wants me to do,” Butler said. “I don’t have any personal goals. I just want to win because when you win, everybody looks good. It’s not ever about me. It’s always about this team. I do whatever my team needs me to do.”
Butler was the rookie in the Bulls’ locker room last year so he admits he has taken to first rounder Marquis Teague this year, trying to help him get adjusted to life in the NBA.
“It’s tough for me because last year I had Ronnie Brewer and we were the same position so I felt like it was easier,” Butler said. “But I give him pointers on things that I can. I can’t be like, ‘Hey, whenever you come off of that ball screen…’ because I don’t come off of as many ball screens as he does. But off the court, I try to (help) as much as I can.”
The Bulls opted to part ways with a number of players that were impactful off the bench last season. The hope is that Butler can assume some of those minutes and produce some of those points. The Bulls plan to put Butler on the floor in lots of situations this year, so it will be on him to make the most of his opportunity.
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