Despite finishing this previous season on a disastrous note, the Indiana Pacers were still seen as contenders in the wide-open Eastern Conference. However, after All-Star forward Paul George‘s devastating leg injury this week which requires a 9-12 month recovery period, the Pacers are in some very serious trouble heading into next season. George’s injury could have a profound effect on the future of NBA players participating on the international basketball stage, but no one is going to feel the impact more than the Pacers.
Whether George was injured or not, Indiana was already entering the 2014-15 season worse than this past season. Yes, the additions of sharpshooter C.J. Miles and combo guard Rodney Stuckey are nice, but these moves do not make Indiana much better. The real reason why Indiana had already taken a step back was because of the departure of Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson may have acted like an immature knucklehead during the playoffs, but he was Indiana’s best playmaker on both ends of the floor besides George. Stephenson gave the Pacers a little bit of everything: defense, hustle, scoring, rebounding and passing. If that isn’t enough to convince people, Stephenson led the league in triple-doubles this season. Needless to say, the Charlotte Hornets will gladly enjoy “Born Ready’s” services.
With George now out for the season, the Pacers are without their best scorer as well as their best defender. The Pacers now have zero playmakers on this team for next season. Guard George Hill sure isn’t, nor are guard C.J. Watson or forward Chris Copeland. Forward David West may be the locker room leader and a very good all-around player, but he isn’t going to carry this team at the age of 34. Unless big man Roy Hibbert has a rebirth and becomes Hakeem Olajuwon, the Pacers are going to struggle to score points. The defense could drop off slightly without George, but it should remain stout for the most part.
Unless the Pacers want to flush this upcoming season down the drain, which I do not believe team president Larry Bird wants to do, Indiana has no choice but to make some moves in order to contend in the East. The first player who comes to mind who is available right now is guard Eric Bledsoe. He is a restricted free agent and expected to return to the Phoenix Suns, but contract talks have stalled as both sides remain far apart. Bledsoe is an incredibly athletic playmaker on the offensive end who would immediately provide a spark to the Pacers. However, the Pacers already are very guard-heavy and he would not be the defensive player that George or Stephenson are. But if Indiana is looking strictly for an offensive playmaker, Bledsoe may be the way to go.
The Pacers also have a plethora of draft picks to offer teams in possible trades. It’s not clear at the moment who Indiana could trade for, but their best option could be for a player with an expiring contract after this season. Three players who come to mind are forwards Mike Dunleavy of the Chicago Bulls, Jeff Green of the Boston Celtics and Thaddeus Young of the Philadelphia 76ers. Obviously, none of these three would be upgrades or even close to the player George is, but acquiring one of these veteran forwards would give Indiana an opportunity to still contend next season without their best player.
If Indiana was in the Western Conference, it would be smart of them to pack it in for the season and go reserve their seat at the draft lottery next May. Lucky them, the Pacers still have a chance at being a playoff team in the much weaker East. Without George, it is hard to imagine Indiana as an elite team in the East next season, but Indiana should still contend for a playoff spot.
At the end of the day, the basketball ramifications of George’s injury are nothing compared to the importance of recovery for George himself. He is one of the brightest stars in the NBA and the league needs his talent back as soon as possible on the court. All any basketball fan can hope for is for George to return at full strength to his once-dominant self.