THIRTY YEARS IN THE MANUFACTURE. The Pacers go into what may be their most critical offseason in history with something they haven’t had since 1989: a single-digit draft pick. Amazingly, her last such pick was George McCloud, who finished seventh overall in the 1989 NBA draft class, ahead of All-Star Shawn Kemp and future Hall of Famer Tim Hardaway. The only other team without a single-digit pick this century is San Antonio, who were last drafted in the top nine when they made Tim Duncan the top pick in 1997.
A MUST HIT SCENARIO. “The draft is the Pacers’ best opportunity to attract franchise-changing talent,” said Scott Agness, Pacers beatwriter for Fieldhouse Files. “We’ve gotten so used to them drafting in their 20’s, but at the top of the draft, Indiana needs to face future all-star talent. Since they also have the first pick in the second round, it’s their most important draft in decades.”
A CHANCE FOR A MODULE. This year’s selection of rare, high-end drafts is exactly what a franchise looking to re-establish itself as a competitor needs. Though lacking a consensus No. 1 player, this year’s upper class, which includes Auburn’s jack-of-all-trades Jabari Smith, Duke star Paolo Banchero, Gonzaga Big Man Chet Holmgren and Purdue super athlete Jaden Ivey, is highly regarded and the rest of the Top 10 cause intrigue.
THE DESIGN = A REASON TO HOPE. Most of the best players in Pacers NBA history have been drafted. Reggie Miller (11th overall, 1987), Rik Smits (second overall, 1988), Danny Granger (17th overall, 2005) and Paul George (10th overall, 2010) were all drafted by the Pacers and developed into All-Stars . Of the top eight NBA scorers of all time, only one (Jermaine O’Neal, third with 9,580 points) was not drafted by Indiana.
NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP. A return to relevance is especially important now that fans have taken notice of the slide. During last season’s 25-57 season, Indiana was the last entrant, reaching just 14,359 fans per game… and if we’re being honest, that number is generous. Even accounting for the lower capacity of Gainbridge Fieldhouse (24th largest arena), on average, barely 80 percent of the seats were filled, beating out only the pathetic Pistons (79.6 percent) and Wizards (75.4 percent).
HARD TIMES. But last year was just the latest in a string of go-nowhere seasons for the Pacers. They haven’t won a playoff series in eight years, a streak dating back to the elimination of Washington in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals and representing the franchise’s longest playoff series winning streak since its NBA beginnings. The Pacers waited 17 seasons (1977-1993) for their first NBA playoff series win and finally made the breakthrough during the memorable run to the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.
FEEL WARMTH. Team President Kevin Pritchard is entering his 16th season (12th with the Pacers) as NBA manager and Rick Carlisle has just completed his 20th season as NBA head coach, so they’ve navigated turmoil before. The Pacers’ brass finally embarked on a long-overdue rebuild midway through last season by treating big All-Star man Domantas Sabonis and goalscorer Caris LeVert. Those two trades received much praise in NBA circles and saw the return of talented point guard Tyrese Haliburton from Sacramento and three draft picks, including a potential 2023 first-round pick (lottery-protected) from Cleveland.
HOPE AGAIN! If the Pacers get their first pick and find a starting caliber with their early second-round picks this month, paired with Haliburton and last year’s promising first-round picks Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson, this franchise can get back on track after nearly a decade come.