It’s fair to say the Pacers have underachieved relative to expectations this season. After going 45-28 and finishing fourth in the East a year ago, the team is currently just 29-32 and will likely have to win one – if not two – play-in games to earn a postseason berth next month.
Still, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard isn’t disappointed with his team’s play, telling Bob Kravitz of The Athletic that it’s hard to properly evaluate the roster, given the outsized impact the coronavirus has had on the season, as well as all the injuries Indiana has endured.
“This season has been unlike any I’ve been a part of, and it’s proven to be challenging on many fronts. I’ve got a lot of scar tissue from this season; we all do,” Pritchard said. “In some ways, it’s been less about basketball than a lot of other things. But look at it, we’re a few games within fourth, and to go through what we’ve gone through as far as injuries, I want to see how this one plays out. We could have shut it down, but we’re playing hard; we’re just severely undermanned right now.
“We’re not that far away,” Pritchard added, “but because of all these injuries now, it feels like we’re miles away.”
T.J. Warren has been sidelined for nearly the entire season, while Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, and Caris LeVert are among the others who have missed time due to injuries.
As a result, Pritchard tells Kravitz that he still isn’t sure whether the roster will require a major overhaul or just a few tweaks this offseason. He’s also not ready to draw any conclusions about the long-term viability of the Turner/Sabonis frontcourt pairing.
“I’d like to answer that after the playoffs because that’s when it really counts,” Pritchard said of the two centers. “Hopefully, Myles will be back in time.”
Here are a few more highlights from Kravitz’s Q&A with the Pacers’ president, which covers plenty of ground and is worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber:
On Aaron Holiday‘s down year:
“We still believe in Aaron. Sometimes in a year, for whatever reason, you prepare but you have some guys playing very well at his position. I know (head coach) Nate (Bjorkgren) wants to reward the guys who played well this year, and Aaron simply hasn’t played as well. We’ll need him at some point in time, believe me. Players who stay prepared almost invariably get another shot, and he’ll get another shot, but he’ll have to hit shots and play within our system.”
On whether there are any regrets about firing Nate McMillan, who is thriving in Atlanta:
“Look, Nate is a great friend; we worked together for more than a decade. I want him to do well. He’s got a really good team, good chemistry, and they’re going to be a tough team in the playoffs. But no animosity and no regret at all. This is a transitory business. If we were dismayed by people leaving us and having success elsewhere, what would that say about us? I’m happy for Nate, just the way I’m happy for Frank Vogel.”
On Paul George and Victor Oladipo both pushing their way out of Indiana, and whether there’s concern about a perception that stars don’t want to play for the Pacers:
“I think they’re all independent situations, first of all. We obsess with making this a great place for players. … Great training facility, the best doctors in the world. And look, Malcolm (Brogdon) chose us, the Rookie of the Year chose us, and he’s had a great experience.
“We get it; we’re not for everybody. We don’t have the beach and the big city, but it’s a great place to play basketball in front of people who truly appreciate when you play the right way. Great fans, educated fans, great facilities, and I always say this now: Players get marketed all around the world. Social media could be the great equalizer. You can be in a smaller market and still have a national profile.”
On how to deal with the challenge of being a small-market team:
“We’ve done some things well and haven’t done some things well, but for us, it almost feels like you have to play a perfect game to be hyper-competitive. There are teams who can make personnel mistakes; we really can’t. Our biggest source of players is trades, and that’s really tough. Trades are challenging. I feel good about the ones we’ve made, and we have to draft better, and we will, but I still have a ton of confidence in our scouting staff. It’s just, yes, it’s a major challenge given the fact that the bifurcation of the top teams seems to be getting greater in comparison with the mid- and small-market teams. That’s something we’re always going to have to deal with.”