ZILLER: It would appear that Larry Bird is attempting another one of his patented on-the-fly retoolings. He let Solomon Hill, Jordan Hill, and Ian Mahinmi go and traded George Hill. (Three Hills, gone like that!) In their places: Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson, Kevin Seraphin, and Thaddeus "Free At Last" Young. (Thad's teams have gone 67-179 over the past three years. And he MISSED the worst two teams of the Hinkie era!)
So, uh ... what the hell is happening here, Larry Bird? Or, in Larry Bird's absence, Paul Flannery?
FLANNERY: Is it possible to think they'll be better and still worse?
The Pacers never should have lost Solomon Hill for nothing. That was a major miscalculation by Bird to not pick up the fourth year of his rookie deal. George Hill is a good player and he will be missed, especially on the defensive end. Frank Vogel was, and is, an excellent coach who got as much out of that roster last season as anyone should have reasonably expected.
But I dunno, I kind of like what they're doing.
Bird wanted an up-tempo, fast-paced team and the moves he made certainly point in that direction. Teague is a jet compared to Hill. Thad Young is sleek and far more skilled than the other Hills. Mahinmi became a fine player, but Myles Turner has a chance to be special. I thought Vogel got a raw deal, but I'm happy Nate McMillan gets another shot.
This is all about Paul George, though. Just a hunch, but I think he's ready to rise to that superstar elite range. As in, a no-doubt-about-it top-10 dude and maybe an MVP candidate. You with this?
ZILLER: Sure. I think there are no or few questions about Paul George's excellence. He was a legit MVP ballot candidate for the first half of last season. I think the question is whether he has enough help, and whether it's the right kind of help.
I'm desperately worried about the Pacers' defense. Turner is promising, but we know it takes young players a little while to find their way on that end. Teague is a downgrade on defense and Monta Ellis is the dude next to him. That backcourt will get lots of steals, but give up even more layups. PG is an elite stopper. Young's a good defender, but Al Jefferson is your third big and that's trouble. Plus, you give up Vogel (one of the best defensive coaches in the league). I see a downturn.
But perhaps the combo of McMillan, Teague, and Young can make the Pacers' attack not just more exciting, but more effective. I'm skeptical Indiana will run based on Nate's work in Portland, but he has a strong record of coaching efficient offenses.
FLANNERY: That's the most interesting dynamic here. McMillan's offense have been efficient and slow, but both may have been a product of the times and his talent. He's being asked to coach an up-tempo team and Bird's roster moves certainly point in that direction. Why shouldn't he be able to adapt to that? It's not like offense strategies are some deeply-held secret. You and I are talking about them right now! This all seems fairly straightforward to me, but yes, observers will be watching to see what happens.
Let's get back to PG for a minute. I think we both take his place in the game for granted and oversell it a bit. I know that I do. He does have his flaws as a player, but when he puts it all together, he has shown that he can spend significant amounts of time as one of the best in the world. There aren't many, even in the so-called star category, who can lay claim to that distinction.
This is a big year for him. He's healthy, he's got that Olympic gold medal, and with Vogel and George Hill gone, he is literally the last one left from those tremendous Pacer teams of just a few short years ago. It is really, finally, all on him now. Let's recognize this moment.
ZILLER: Amen. I'm fully on board. But I just don't know how much attention he'll get if the Pacers aren't significantly better than I think they'll be. Perhaps another career season from him can launch them upwards. I just don't see this team getting there. But I agree we should give PG all he's due wherever Indiana lands.
FLANNERY: And that's the rub. Even if the Pacers improve on paper and in the standings, this doesn't look like a team that's significantly upgraded from last year's 45-win club. That bunch won with their defense and you're right to be concerned about the tradeoffs Bird made to get a faster team. I'm seeing playoffs, but not much beyond that in terms of their ceiling.
If there's continued stagnation, albeit in a different guise, then I think we need to start worrying about PG's tenure in Indy. Players of his caliber only come around so often, but he has an early termination on the last year of his deal in 2019-20. I don't want to get ahead of things here, but this is the age we’re in now.
ZILLER: On the bright side, Bird can fit in at least two more quick rebuilds between now and 2020. There's plenty of time!