By Jon R. LaFollette (@JonFilet)
with contributions from David Searle (@DaveSearle)
Pacers Media Day took an unexpected turn when George Hill made
an offhand comment about his summer routine.
"I tweeted a long time ago 'I feel 10 pounds lighter,' and
the media guy wrote a story that I lost 10 pounds," Hill said. "I was
referring to taking a poop."
While Hill was wont to treat his time at the podium like a
stand-up comedy set, pleading for his own television show while boasting of his
prowess as a rapper, he also took responsibility for his role on a team with
serious hopes of winning a championship.
"I want to be the vocal leader on the floor," said
Hill. "I think that's going to be my job this year."
Team President Larry Bird has described the upcoming season as "all
in" in pursuit of the franchise's first NBA title — a sentiment head
coach Frank Vogel echoed.
"When you trade away a future first [round pick] and one of
your young players, like we did to bring in a veteran like Luis Scola, I think
you send a little bit of a message," Vogel said. "This is a go-for-it
Scola, a seven-year pro from Argentina acquired in an offseason
trade with Phoenix, was highly touted by his new teammates.
"Scola can play," center Roy Hibbert said. "He
catches the ball and brings it down [the court] like a point guard himself. He's
such a great passer."
Scola will contribute from the bench along with point guard C.J.
Watson and forward Chris Copeland. Both signed as free agents over the summer.
The trio will look to improve a second string unit ranked near the bottom of
the league just a year ago.
But the team promised an improved bench last season as well. How
is this year different?
"I guess we'll see," Bird said. "I don't have a
magic wand and I don't have a crystal ball. But I like the guys we brought in
and I hope it works out."
Another area of concern involves team captain Danny Granger, a
one-time All-Star who missed all but five games last season to a knee injury.
Despite his absence, however, the Pacers came within one game of
punching a ticket to the NBA Finals. Paul George blossomed in his new role as a
primary scorer and shooting guard Lance Stephenson, once a raw street baller,
refined his game and developed into a three-point threat.
As Granger recovers from surgery and aims to reenter the
starting lineup, some wonder how the three wings, and their various skill sets,
"You're longer when Danny is in the game," Vogel said
in reference to Granger's height. "And you become a better three-point
shooting team. But you're probably a better running team when Lance is in the
Granger remains cautiously optimistic about his return and role
with the team and is more focused on recovering.
"I need to be healthy," Granger said. "Whether I
get the starting job or not is irrelevant at this point. If I'm not healthy
then that's not going to matter."
Granger or no Granger, this Pacers team belongs to Paul George —
who signed a 5-year max contract extension earlier this week.
"I know my role has jumped tremendously," George said.
"I have to be comfortable to be the guy to takeover games and put games
Though George is currently entering his fourth season, his
skills as an elite defender and steady scorer have already garnered recognition
from around the league. He became a first-time All-Star in February, was the
fourth Pacer to receive the Most Improved Player Award and received a nod of
confidence from Miami Heat superstar LeBron James — a reigning
back-to-back NBA champion.
As Indy has stockpiled talent in order to thwart James and
company from a three-peat, so too have other Eastern Conference teams,
including the Brooklyn Nets who acquired future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and
Kevin Garnett from Boston.
The basketball arms race has hit close to home for the
7-foot-2-inch Roy Hibbert, who finds himself a giant among giants in the
Central Division. In a post-center league, each of the five Central Division
teams (Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Indiana, Milwaukee) feature
a traditional center — a growing anomaly in a league captivated by
smaller, nimbler lineups.
Hibbert, who underwent a bevy of strength and conditioning
routines over the summer, caught the eye of many pundits beat writers over the
summer for his bulked-up physique. Hibbert claims to weigh 290 lbs.
"I just put my nose to the ground this summer," Hibbert
said. "I was lifting. I went heavy on the legs and upper body. Hopefully
it pays off this year."
Forward David West spent his summer away from the NBA bubble and
kept as low a profile after signing a 3-year $36 million extension in June.
For West, signing elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent was
not an option.
"At this stage in my career it's about competing as late
into the spring and the summer as possible" West said. "And the
opportunity to do that was best here."
And that's the goal for this Pacers team: Keep playing as the
weather gets warmer, take last year's defensive powers and mesh them with this
season's promising offensive capabilities, play what Vogel calls "smash
mouth basketball," rely on the team chemistry Paul George describes as "unreal,"
lose 10 lbs. and win a ring.