KRAVITZ: The Pacers, led by superstar-to-be Oladipo, are not just one-hit wonders

Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo gets a fast-break dunk against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Thursday, April 5, 2018. The Pacers defeated the Warriors 126-106. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Bob Kravitz

When Victor Oladipo walked into the Pacers’ office for his exit meeting Monday, he heard a song playing. The DJ was Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan, who had been told to play the tune by president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard.

“What’s that song?” Oladipo wondered.

“It’s `Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli,” Pritchard responded. “That’s one of the biggest one-hit wonders ever. The question is, are you a one-hit wonder? Is this just a one-year deal?”

Oladipo was nonplussed.

“Nope, I’m more Michael Jackson,” he said.

Pritchard, who was telling the story Tuesday during a Pacers’ availability that was more of a celebration than it was a post-mortem, smiled.

“I thought, `We’ve got something special,’‘’ he said.

Of course, Pritchard has long known that to be true. In fact, when he came into the office at 7:30 Monday to get a quick workout, he saw Oladipo walk in just hours after LeBron James and the Cavaliers had eliminated the Pacers.

“I’m on the bike and in he comes in, gets up about 200 shots and he gets into the weight room and he is getting after it,” Pritchard said. “He walked over to me and said, `This is just the beginning. I’m taking my workouts to the next level this summer.’ …In building a team (you want someone) who is not only your best player, but also your best worker and your best human being.”

Less than a year after the Pacers were forced to trade their single franchise player (Paul George), this team has a new franchise player, one who has been embraced in ways that George never quite experienced. That’s the good news. And the better news is, they have two massively important players who also make up the new foundation of this franchise, specifically Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. A culture has been established. An expectation has been set.

But it leaves Pritchard and his staff with one over-arching question, a question the Pacers’ brass is not yet ready to answer this soon after their Game 7 elimination by the Cavaliers:

Do they bring back most of this team, or do they shake it up a bit with a free agent and perhaps a trade or two?

It’s a fine line Pritchard must walk. He doesn’t want to mess with a good thing, doesn’t want to alter what has quickly turned into a very strong locker room culture. At the same time, he knows he needs more talent if this team is going to advance in the playoffs. The Pacers are not a particularly good rebounding team. They could use more 3-point shooters who can surround Oladipo. There are areas that can be upgraded.

“A lot of thought will go into asking, `Do we go big-game fishing this summer and look to add a player and that will cause us to lose some of these players we have now, or do we keep this core together, add a few peripheral pieces, then we could have $50-70 million in cap space next summer. Sometimes it’s time to shove the chips in… Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not. Is it time to be aggressive and add that player or add those players, or do we keep adding these really good human beings, solid players, guys who will accept their roles and will let Myles, Victor and Domas be the shining lights? That’s what goes through my mind when I’m in the shower and when I wake up in the morning.”

At this point, Pritchard is not ready to say which way he’ll proceed. Some of those decisions are dependent on the decisions that will be made by Thad Young and Cory Josoph, two players who have player options. Both had said they’d like to be back and Pritchard said Tuesday that he’d like to bring both back… but money talks, ultimately.

This was supposed to be a post-mortem, but honestly, it was more of a celebration, an appreciation of a stunningly successful season.

“I’m going to do something different from here on out,” Pritchard said. “This business is such a grind from day one to the end, and the season ends so abruptly. For me, I’m going to sit back, have a glass of wine and enjoy this season. I’ve never done that in my life. I’m going to take a few days, maybe, and then we’ll get back after it and see how to make this team better.”

Can I suggest a nice pinot noir?

All the Pacers wanted to do this year was be competitive, be representative. They could have gone young, which is a nice way of saying “tank,” but owner Herb Simon told Pritchard and his staff he wanted a team that him and the city could be proud of. Mission accomplished. And it left the fans wanting even more.

“When I talked to the team after the game, looking around the room, I’ve never seen so much disappointment and sadness,” he said. “A lot of times in an NBA season, there’s relief, like `OK, now it’s on to summer vacation.’ I can promise you, there were 17 players and our D-League guys who were hurt to their bones. Marrow deep. So we’re giving our speeches and you can’t be anything but excited about the future with bringing the majority of these players back.

“I like this team. I like this team. In my 26 years, I’ve never been around a team that brought it like they did, that had each other’s backs…”

Said McMillan: “The growth these guys showed and the experience they got against Cleveland, that’s going to make us better, make us stronger. You tell guys what it’s like, but until they go through it, that’s the best experience they can get.”

The Pacers, who looked like they were headed toward the doldrums after the Paul George fiasco, suddenly seem to have a very bright future. These are not one-hit wonders. They need more talent, more pieces, but they’ll be back and they’ll be better. And they might even get on national TV more than once in the regular season.

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