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Pacers Last Week: Nov. 30 — Three preseason games, All-Star game postponed, TJ Leaf traded and farewell to Quick Change
Catch up on what you've missed just as a new season is starting.
I know it can be a lot to follow the team, especially in the current times. I want to help simplify that, so that’s why I established “Pacers Last Week.” Each week, you can expect a summary of all key Pacers items from the last week, plus a brief look ahead to next week. This roundup will evolve over time. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Ready or not, here we go…
Over the last two weeks, there’s been the draft, free agency and players going every which way. There’s been a 100-plus page safety manual sent to every team, players arriving to town and having to begin regular testing for COVID-19. And for the Pacers, there’s a lot of newness around the building.
A new head coach, just one assistant retained, newcomers to the video room and support staff. Nobody is even sure what’s happening with the G League.
At least the roster is mostly the same.
Right now, all of the attention is getting guys comfortably back into town, settled, and prepared to embark on a new season.
The Pacers’ last game was more than four months ago, on Aug. 24, in Florida. Two days later, Nate McMillan was fired and assistants Dan Burke and Popeye Jones weren’t welcomed back. McMillan is in Atlanta and Burke, Jones and executive Peter Dinwiddie all went east to Philadelphia.
They drafted Cassius Stanley in the second round, Justin Holiday returned to the team on a three-year deal and the front office tweaked the backend of the roster. The Pacers have 14 players with guaranteed contracts for the season and they’re starting camp with a 20-man roster, the maximum allowed.
The front office handled their work, now begins the mad scramble for head coach Nate Bjorkgren and his staff.
Individual workouts at the St. Vincent Center begin on Tuesday and team practices are expected to start up by the end of the week. At least for now, media is not allowed to watch the end of practice as usual, or conduct interviews in person. So keep buying that Zoom stock!
Before we look ahead to the new season, let’s catch you up on all that has transpired recently.
Three preseason games
After about a week of team camp, the preseason begins Dec. 11. The Pacers are slated to play three tune-up games, including one at home.
Dec. 12 at Cleveland, 7 p.m. ET
Dec. 14 at Cleveland, 6 p.m. ET
Dec. 18 v Pacers East (Philadelphia), 6 p.m. ET
So, what about fans? Not much has been decided just yet. However, no fans will be allowed at the upcoming college basketball games or their lone home preseason game. The TV schedule hasn’t been set yet, but their final preseason game is already promised to be shown on Fox Sports Indiana.
The Colts allowed 12,500 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium for recent home games, about 20 percent of capacity. Over at Butler, the Marion County Department of Health approved a fan capacity of 25 percent (2,275) for basketball games at Hinkle Fieldhouse. They elected to limit capacity on their own to 1,500 fans for the season opener.
Pacers season-ticket holders are wondering what’s up and whether they will at least get a refund soon. All of those questions — and more — are hopefully answered by the end of the month.
Indy’s All-Star Weekend pushed three years
More than four months ago, the NBA canceled hotel rooms for Indy’s All-Star game and began considering their options. Not only will the 2021 NBA All-Star break be later than usual, it won’t be in its traditional format. And it won’t be happening in Indianapolis. (Details TBD.)
The city was moved to the back of the line and is now scheduled to host All-Star weekend in 2024. Before them, Cleveland will host in 2022, followed by Salt Lake City in 2023.
So Indy is having to wait three years to host the NBA’s showcase for the second time and by then, extensive renovations to Bankers Life Fieldhouse will be completed.
Speaking of renovations… A LOT has been done to the place. Stay tuned…
Games coming to Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Tuesday is also special day because the first game since phase one of renovations will be played. In college basketball, No. 10 Kentucky vs. No. 6 Kansas at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) — part of the annual Champions Classic.
The following night, it’s a double-header of ranked teams in the Jimmy V Classic. At 7:00 p.m. ET, West Virginia vs Gonzaga, followed by Baylor vs Illinois at 10:00 p.m.
I’m sure Domantas Sabonis will try to attend to see his Bulldogs. It’s been far too long since I’ve been inside the Fieldhouse and I miss it.
It was, however, opened on voting day. A team spokesman said about 1,600 voters cast their ballot in the election earlier this month.
Leaf experience ends
Leaf never panned out as hoped. He was the 18th pick in 2017, drafted after his freshman year at UCLA. He appeared in 139 games.
Leaf, who’s only 23 years old, scored 465 points — just 84 last season — and shot 49.1 percent from the field. But he never earned a regular role. He struggled with confidence, failed to become a 3-point threat (34.1 percent) and didn’t have much success around the basket — where he focused on being an inside-out player.
The Pacers got off the hook for the $4.3 million option the team picked up one year ago by attaching their 2027 second-round pick in a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jalen Lecque, who has three years remaining on his contract and just one guaranteed.
So no longer do the Pacers have all the TJs in the league. They now have two of the three TJs AND Holidays.
It’s easy to play the ‘what-if’ game, but there were several good players taken after him: John Collins (19), OG Anunoby (23), Kyle Kuzma (27) and Josh Hart (30). It was a bad Pacers draft, one that also included Ike Anigbogu, who was never healthy enough to develop, and Edmond Sumner, who has battled several injuries as well.
Alize Johnson is gone as well. The Pacers chose not to make a qualifying offer so Johnson, their 2018 second-round pick (50), signed with the Raptors. They’re known for player development and giving players a chance, so this should be a good opportunity for the 24 year old.
He shared the following in an Instagram post: “THANK YOU! Indiana When the organization drafted me they drafted my city 🌃 to gave everybody here hope & motivation it’s all love 4L. Next chapter I ain’t asking God no questions just open the door. Raptors — Thank you for another opportunity! 570”
On a side note, it’s been interesting to see the front office (via the team social media accounts) thank former players on their way out. That’s something they didn’t do in previous summers. My guess is that GM Chad Buchanan pushed for it.
Speaking of former Pacers, Solomon Hill signed with the Hawks, pairing him with coach McMillan once again.
Hayward deal finalized
Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Charlotte Hornets, reuniting him with college teammate Ronald Nored, an assistant coach, and 2011 Indiana Mr. Basketball Cody Zeller. He signed a four year, $120 million contract over the weekend.
The Celtics did get the Hornets to agree to a sign-and-trade, but it cost them two unprotected second-round picks (2023 and 2024). In exchange, they received a massive trade exception that may or may not be used within a year.
If you haven’t read my detailed account of his free agency, the Pacers’ trade talks with the Celtics and why he’s in Charlotte, click here to do so.
Hall of Fame dates set
The Class of 2020 will have its special day. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame plans to hold enshrinement weekend for its star-studded class May 13-15. Tamika Catchings is part of that group, along with the late Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
New City Edition uniforms
Did you see catch the Pacers’ newest jersey? Their new City Edition jersey leaked on social media 10 days ago. It has not yet been announced by the team, but I was able to confirm its validity with multiple sources. I then polled fans — almost 800 fans voted on Twitter — and 82.3 percent voted that they “liked ‘em.”
Quick Change will be missed
One of the best halftime acts is no longer. David Maas, part of the Quick Change duo, has passed away due to COVID-19.
There aren’t many performances that keep me from my routine halftime walk around the building, but Quick Change was one. I’ve seen them dozens of times, from all different vantage points, from near and far, and I still don’t have a clue how they did it.
I hate to see it end and will miss them.
One big thing missing…
One of the best events of the year held at The Fieldhouse is their “Come to Our House” Thanksgiving for more than 800 individuals from local shelters. It’s a great meal prepared by Levy Restaurants and enjoyed in the entry pavilion. They are served by coaches and players and can get a free health screening. They each left with a bag filled with gloves, socks, a knit hat, etc. to keep warm.
This year would have been the 23rd annual event, but it was canceled due to the pandemic. Instead, they are working with Second Helpings and distributing pre-packaged meals to local shelters later this week.
Justin goes car shopping
Did you know Justin Holiday has a vlog? He’s showing the young guys up…
He published many episodes inside the NBA bubble and on his most recent episode, he went car shopping and bought a bike that actually fits 6-foot-6 body so he can ride in the neighborhood with his daughters pulled from behind.