KRAVITZ: With George on his way out the door, it’s time for the Pacers to rebuild - completely

(Associated Press photo)
Published: .
Updated: .
Bob Kravitz

The Pacers don’t rebuild, they retool. That’s the way it’s always been around here, or so it seems. Even when they were casting off the shackles of the Brawl years, they dealt their trouble-making players for veterans like Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy, and remained a reasonably competitive team that never quite bottomed out or positioned themselves for a top-three draft choice.

It’s been part of the Pacers’ genius, Donnie Walsh’s genius, that even after the 2000 Finals appearance, he was able to restore the franchise’s luster in short order by trading for Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest and others. The Pacers have never stayed down for very long, never “trusted the process,’’ never looked to the Lottery to fill their roster.

Well, it’s time.

It’s time to tear it down and re-build, even if the first part of this sentence is anathema to everything the Pacers and Kevin Pritchard believe.

There is this fear, and I’m thinking that it’s unfounded, that Pacers fans will abandon the franchise if the team misses the playoffs for two, three, even four years. There is this fear, and I think it’s mostly Herb Simon’s fear, that Bankers Life Fieldhouse will be a ghost town if the Pacers are winning 20-25 games per season for a couple of years. And it was a sentiment shared by former team president Larry Bird, who simply wasn’t built to waste seasons and operate with an eye toward grabbing a high Lottery pick. Pritchard? At his introductory press conference, I specifically asked Pritchard if “rebuilding’’ was a dirty word. He smiled and answered quickly, “Yes, it’s a dirty word.’’

Well, it’s time.

It’s time to deal Paul George, even if it’s for pennies on the dollar. It’s time to think long and hard about Jeff Teague’s future, determine whether he’s worth the kind of big money he will be offered as an unrestricted free agent. We’re not talking about tanking or losing on purpose; we’re talking about making every move with an eye toward the long-term future. I’m not interested in middling veterans who will help the Pacers win 35 games and leave them with the 15th pick in the draft, and I don’t think local fans are interested in that kind of approach.

Just for fun Monday morning, I posted a poll asking, “Would Indiana fans support the Pacers through a 3-4 year rebuild. At the time of this writing, there had been 3,827 Twitter responses with 59 percent saying yes and 41 percent saying no. On Facebook, it was far more one-sided: 82 respondents said they would support a rebuild while 12 said they would not.

Is this scientific? Um, no.

But I think it’s representative.

Now clearly, it’s difficult to define “support.’’ Does it mean you’d buy tickets to games? Does it mean you’d continue to watch them on TV? The word can mean what you want it to mean, but my sense is that it shows that Pacers management and ownership has always underestimated the patience of Pacers fans. This is Indiana; we know basketball. And knowing basketball, we know that mediocrity guarantees nothing beyond mid-first-round draft choices and first-round sweeps by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s time -- time to bite the bullet, swallow hard, begin a rebuilding process that’s never been part of the Pacers’ approach, at least as long as I’ve been following this franchise.

I think this city is ready.

I think this city, which has been blessed to have competitive teams for the better part of three decades, is ready to be patient.

The question, ultimately, is whether Pritchard is ready. We will have a much better idea in the next few days, during which it’s expected the Pacers will deal George.

Initially, the Lakers had absolutely no reason to get involved in trade talks, but now that the Cavaliers are looking at PG as a one-year rental, LA has reason to fear that George may become intoxicated by winning and playing with LeBron and may remain in Cleveland. There’s also talk about a sign-and-trade involving the Los Angeles Clippers.

Whatever happens, the Pacers are left holding a lousy poker hand. The league knows Indiana has to move George; now it’s a matter of who offers up the best of a bunch of lousy deals. In my perfect world, Indiana walks away from this with young assets, either first-round picks or up-and-coming young players. A guy like Kevin Love is enticing, but his addition will leave the Pacers right where they started – right around .500, right on the edge of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Now, if you use Love to make a deal with a third team and walk away with those young assets, that’s fine, but just-good-enough-to-get-swept-in-the-first-round just isn’t going to work any longer.

I’d complete the rebuild by letting Teague walk, at least if he gets a healthy offer elsewhere. Lance Stephenson is a natural point guard, and if he can keep his head together, he gives the Pacers a dynamic if sometimes wacky presence at the point and frees up cash to pursue another piece to the puzzle.

This is nothing terribly new to Pritchard, who faced a daunting rebuild with Portland, an underachieving team whose off-court issues left them with the unfortunate nickname of JailBlazers. He was incredibly aggressive, especially on draft night, and quickly developed a young, promising team that turned into a 50-plus-win group. If Greg Oden and Brandon Roy had not run into injury problems, that Portland team could have made significant post-season noise for years to come.

To Pritchard, “rebuilding’’ is a dirty word.

It’s time to accept the harsh, new reality, and start over.

Want more Kravitz? Subscribe to The Bob Kravitz Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn. If you have a good story idea that's worth writing, feel free to send it to bkravitz@wthr.com.

Filed under: