KRAVITZ: This is Victor Oladipo's town, and it needs to be his town his entire career

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Bob Kravitz

Don't change, Victor.

For the love of all things holy, don't go Hollywood on us, don't start casting longing glances toward bigger markets when your mega-payday comes a few years from now, don't look in the mirror and start seeing yourself as way too big for this small market. You know, the way…oh, shoot, I won't mention his name because he's long gone and forgotten.

What I'm saying is this: Be Reggie Miller. Be an Indiana lifer. Sink your claws into this wonderful market and help bring the Pacers their first-ever NBA title. Do it the hard way, the same way you did it this past summer when you transformed your body and turned into the player we all thought you could be. Don't be a basketball mercenary, a hired gun going from super-team to super-team in search of a championship ring.

Maybe it never happens here in Indiana, a market where ownership is ill-equipped to pay the luxury tax, a market that has a difficult time drawing marquee free agents. But there is great nobility in trying. Already, you have your pitch ready for any free agents who might be thinking about joining this fun, young team on the rise:

"The biggest thing I would tell guys who might ask is, we've created a different type of culture here,'' you said Wednesday. "Positive, it's positive. And I think that's unique because it's not like that in every organization…If they want to be part of something bigger than themselves, come to Indiana.''

Whatever happens these next few days as free agency beckons, the Pacers know this much: They have their star, their centerpiece. And it all began as you sat in the locker room, all alone with only your thoughts, the night your old team, Oklahoma City, got beat by the Houston Rockets in five playoff games two seasons ago. After four years in the league, three in Orlando and one in Oklahoma City, your career was at a crossroads.

What was it you told the media Wednesday?

"Y'all should go look at those numbers.''

So we did. You averaged 10.8 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game in that series, making just 21-of 61 shots, including 6-of-25 from three.

"Awful, terrible, absolutely dreadful,'' you said. "I remember after that series, sitting in the (Houston visitor's) locker room, I was the last one out of there, trying to figure out why. I put in the work, I worked hard, why did it end up like that? That's when I knew I had to wake up and realized I had to change my life, change my mind and invest in myself…Honestly, it saved my career.''

This is what I liked most about your appearance Wednesday at Bankers Life to celebrate the well-deserved and near-unanimous-choice Most Improved Player Award: You weren't thinking only about yourself. You passionately thanked the scores of Pacers employees who showed up to celebrate the award, took lots of group pictures with them. You continually mentioned your teammates, who gave you the "Backbone Award,'' a team award you treasure most, more than any league trophy. And here was the best thing: You hosted a 10-year-old from Danville named Cameron Kirk and his family, invited Cameron, who is fighting leukemia, to share in this special moment.

"People like Cam make me go stronger and harder every day of my life,'' you said. "They put life in perspective. We are all blessed beyond measure, every one of us in here, and Cam has reminded me of that. Cam is going through stuff, but his family is beautiful…and I worry about missed shots? God has a way of putting people in your life who will impact you even when you don't know it, and that's what Cam has done.''

Look, I'm quite sure there will be plenty of drama a couple of years down the line. You have three years remaining on your $21 million-a-year contract and you know, and I know, and the Pacers know you're worth a whole lot more than that. A big payday is coming and again, for everything that is holy, I hope it will be in Indiana and believe it will be in Indiana. The Pacers will pay whatever they need to pay, although after the whole Paul George super-max fiasco, you never know what might happen.

But that's another headache for another time. Let's just enjoy the glorious present right now, and the possibilities at hand for the Pacers. The team's decision to decline Lance Stephenson's option suggests they are ready and willing to dip into the free-agent market, where there are some very intriguing second-level players – like Will Barton and Joe Harris, among others. It's Kevin Pritchard's job now to build around you (and Myles Turner and Sabonis), to get you some long-range shooters who can take the offensive pressure off.

"We're just getting started,'' you said. "We're just scratching the surface of how good we can be.''

Saturday will mark exactly one year since The Trade, which was panned locally and nationally and turned, arguably, into the greatest trade this franchise has ever made.

"I remember it like it was literally yesterday,'' you told the media. "We had just landed and (I was told), `You just got traded to the Pacers.' I was like, `You're lying.' I thought he was joking. Then I turned on my phone and I had 150 text messages. I thought, `Well, it's true.' I remember calling my mother, she was like, `What's going on?' It's the first time I can remember now knowing how to answer one of my mom's questions. It was a shock to me.

"…It was tough that day. But it made me who I am today.''

Vic, continue to invest emotionally in Indiana just the way Indiana has invested in you. And please, puh-leeze, don't change. Ten years from now, I still want to hear that mellifluous voice belting out some old-school R&B. This is your town, and I can't imagine it without you. Like you said, this is just the start.

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