KRAVITZ: There were no free-agent fireworks for the Pacers, but they're better with McDermott

Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS - What, you expected free-agent fireworks from the Indiana Pacers? Not going to happen. Never going to happen. We're Indiana, and while we love living here, it's not a favored landing spot for the LeBron's and Kawhi's of the world. Even Paul George, who stunned most of us by remaining in Oklahoma City this past weekend, wanted out of Indianapolis, in some part due to a deteriorating relationship with then-team president Larry Bird.

Now, I'm not sure that the Pacers have the cap space or desire to further bolster their team through free agency – my sense is they're mostly done and waiting to improve through trades – but I like the Doug McDermott acquisition a whole lot more than a lot of the fine folks who populate my Twitter timeline.

I understand why the State of Basketball isn't thrilled with the decision to jettison Lance Stephenson and bring in McDermott. Everybody loved Lance, even when he acted out, properly viewing him as the heartbeat of a team that over-performed any and every reasonable expectation. And McDermott? He's a shooter, pure and simple, a three-point sniper, a Kyle Korver on training wheels. He's what the Pacers needed, exactly what they needed, but he's not yet a beloved figure like the guitar-strumming, dancing, prancing, heart-on-his-sleeve Stephenson.

I'm telling you now, you're wrong.

As much as I enjoyed watching Stephenson, if only to see what kind of weirdness might ensue, my take is this: The Pacers needed three-point shooting, and McDermott, who shot 39 percent for the Knicks in 55 games and 49 percent for the Mavericks in 26 games last season, is the perfect complement for a team that desperately needs floor-stretchers. McDermott, who, like Korver, graduated from Creighton, shot 43 percent from three in 2015-16. His numbers dipped in 2016-17, but he recovered and had a strong season coming off the bench for New York and Dallas last year.

Even in a playoff series when the Pacers held the high-scoring Cavaliers well below their season-scoring average, Indiana was found wanting when it came to providing support for Victor Oladipo. That was a series that was begging to be stolen, but the Pacers couldn't score enough, especially when Oladipo's shot went south during the middle portion of the series.

True, the Pacers finished the season ranked eighth in three-point-shooting percentage, but they were just 26th in three-pointers attempted and 25th in three-pointers made, two statistics that speak to Indiana's long-range issues. If we've learned anything in this NBA new age, it's that you live and die with the three-point shot (see: the Houston Rockets).

How many knockdown three-point shooters do the Pacers have? Not many, is the answer. Bojan Bogdanovic is streaky, but finished the season with a very solid 40 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc. Darren Collison had a career year from three, shooting 47 percent, but he takes an inordinate amount of time to lock and load and only takes three three's per game. Myles Turner shot 36 percent from three, a number he figures to improve upon in the years to come. Oladipo was at 37 percent.

They needed to acquire McDermott more than they needed to retain Stephenson.

Yes, Lance was instant energy, the heartbeat of the team, the guy who played hard in the second game of a back-to-back during a West Coast trip. And there are going to be nights when the Pacers lack energy next season and we're going to think, or even say, "Man, they could use an infusion of Lance right now.'' Like I said when the Pacers let Stephenson walk, there is a bit of a risk to the move.

That said, Stephenson shot 29 percent from three and has been a lousy three-point shooter his entire career.

Nobody is suggesting that McDermott will alter the fate of the Pacers' season. He will help, for sure, but he won't get them over the top. For all his shooting acumen, he is known as a poor defender – although we heard the same thing about Bogdanovic, and he turned himself into a more-than-passable defensive player. The key is his shooting. If he's making shots, and history suggests he will, the Pacers will be very tough to defend.

"With Victor, you have one player with the ball and four others who can hit shots, that's impossible to guard,'' Kevin Pritchard said recently. "The last four minutes, you have a real playmaker [in Oladipo] and then put out four guys who can just shoot the heck out of the ball and they spread you out and force you in a switch; now your best player is going against their weakest defender...with four shooters."

All of a sudden, any defensive liabilities are less of an issue than they were before this weekend, and that's because LeBron James is going west to the Los Angeles Lakers. James-led teams in Miami and Cleveland have knocked the Pacers out of the playoffs in five of the last seven years. (Four of the five series went six games or longer.) He has tortured Indiana, ripped out their hearts, just the way Tom Brady did for so many years when the Patriots were (and still are) beating the Colts.

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Now he's gone, and suddenly the Eastern Conference is in play once again. Clearly, the Boston Celtics, who will return a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, will be the prohibitive favorite. The Philadelphia 76ers, who tanked their way back into contention, have some of the most intriguing young talent in the league, which is what happens when you stink on purpose. The Toronto Raptors are a perennial contender, and figure to remain a contender assuming they don't break up the core of that team. The Pacers should be a top-four team in the East, and figure to win the Central Division now that James has left Cleveland.

The biggest surprise of free agency wasn't James, though, and it sure wasn't anything involving the Pacers: It was Paul George's unanticipated decision to remain with the small-market Oklahoma City Thunder. Maybe he wishes now that he'd gone to LA now that James is a Laker, but it seems to me that George made a very rare and grown-up decision here. He could have gone ring-chasing, as so many others have, but chose to remain in OKC and play with Russell Westbrook and what's left of Carmelo Anthony.

It kind of makes you wonder: If George was willing to stay in OKC, why couldn't the Pacers retain him last season?

We'll probably never know the answer.

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So here's where we are with the Pacers: They added a shooter. They may add another player with the mid-level exception – emphasis on may. And as one of the few teams in the league who are under the salary cap, the Pacers are in a favorable spot to make uneven trades; in other words, they can take on more salary than they give up.

There were no pre-Fourth of July fireworks, but these are the Indiana Pacers, and there never are.

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