Maybe I’ll regret what I’m about to write about the Indiana Pacers, but what the hell.
Blame it on everyone else’s doom-and-gloom expectations for the NBA season that opens tonight with the Pacers hosting the Philadelphia 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
OK, expectations have been lowered. Not a lot of people are buying Larry Bird’s Tuesday reminder that the playoffs are the goal. And I’ve heard from enough others who have scoffed at head coach Frank Vogel’s suggestion that the Pacers will be the NBA’s surprise team this season.
What are they supposed to say?
Paul George can’t play this season. Lance Stephenson wanted too much money. So the rest of the guys don’t have a prayer. We quit.
No, they can’t even think that. Because they’re professionals paid to do a job. And that job is to win.
So who’s to say the Pacers can’t open a few eyes this season? Seriously. Is it that far out of the realm of possibility that these guys could somehow get to about .500?
Crazy? Yeah, .500 is probably the ceiling, the absolute best-possible scenario. And if the Pacers get beat by the lowly Sixers, well, that’s all the more ammunition for folks to say “Lottery pick!”
But hear me out for a few more paragraphs, please. If we all agree that expectations are lower for this season, that the Pacers won’t compete for an NBA title as we had hoped last season, then what’s the harm in having a little optimism before this season starts?
How about we play along with what we’re told for now? Bird has been around the league a while. He knows something about basketball. He could be right, don’t you think?
And maybe the Pacers aren’t as much of a surprise as Vogel envisions, but what if they did win more than everybody expected? Vogel has a 167-100 record, which means he should have some confidence in his system, so why can’t the Pacers make it work sometimes?
If C.J. Miles and Chris Copeland hit a bunch of 3-pointers, it’s possible. If George Hill can come back from his knee injury and be more of the aggressive scorer the Pacers are counting on, doesn’t that give you hope?
And maybe David West is going to retire after this season, but haven’t you seen enough of this guy to know he’s going to give it everything he has? West will do everything he can to pull out as many games as possible.
Now I won’t reveal more of my possible ignorance by suggesting center Roy Hibbert is going to be a big-time scorer. Even he doesn’t expect to score 20 a game. I’ll take his word for it, that and the recent trend in his statistics. But if he can defend the rim and rebound, and the defense is decent because he’s a solid back line, doesn’t that give the Pacers a chance to win some games?
Sports can be all about big-picture perspective. Scribes always try to offer it, and sometimes we’re off base, but sometimes not. But Bird said something Tuesday that resonated. He was asked about how much he’s looking to the future, about how he wants to reshape this roster when George returns. He said that’s on his mind daily.
That’s what I thought of this season when George broke his leg on Aug. 1. Who will still be around to help rebuild this team when he’s healthy? If West decides he’s ready to retire, OK, that’s one piece you subtract from the equation. If Hibbert opts out and wants to play elsewhere, so be it, at least you know that much more about what you have.
If Miles and Rodney Stuckey and some of these other guys can play, and let’s mention Solomon Hill in there, too, you figure out from 2014-15 who are keepers and who are not. And perhaps that’s the most important end result from this season. Well, I’m pretty sure it is.
Because there’s a good chance the Pacers won’t make the playoffs nor be the NBA’s surprise team. But in the meantime, why not hope for the best? If they fail to achieve those expectations, well, you had them set low anyway, right? They struggled as you expected, and we’re back to talking about who stays and goes for next season with a healthy George.
So for at least Wednesday night, I’ll walk into Bankers Life Fieldhouse with an open mind and some optimism. Maybe that will be gone by night’s end, but then again, maybe not.
Anybody who wants to see something positive, check out this video of George shooting around after practice Monday. He admitted while shooting he still doesn’t have his legs, but the dude can shoot. And he’ll be back. Not soon enough, but some day. That’s worth some optimism, if nothing else.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.