Discover more from Fieldhouse Files with Scott Agness
Notebook: Three games left in a Pacers season for development, thinking long term
Plus, thoughts on the new CBA, a not-so-memorable NCAA men's title game and rookie Jermaine Samuels honored.
Back on September 22nd, the week before Pacers training camp opened, a handful of local writers and TV reporters were invited to a reception with the front office: Kevin Pritchard, Chad Buchanan, Kelly Krauskopf and Ted Wu.
It was a productive few hours at the team’s practice facility. Pritchard addressed the group first and then it became an open room to mingle and talk. In fact, it went over so well that they held another one, on Nov. 10, for five others who write and talk about the team, though typically remotely.
In Pritchard’s opening comments, he discussed their vision, how it was another season to rebuild and that they had the big picture in mind. Brace for some very high moments, we were told, along with some bad losses. It would be a mixed bag as they worked toward becoming a championship contender again.
They were committed to getting off the treadmill of mediocrity. They had a strong trade deadline, acquiring Tyrese Haliburton and others, followed by an impressive draft and that’s what they would be building on.
In turn, Pritchard wisely set expectations low (unlike the Colts), which the team easily surpassed. Oddsmakers set their win total before the season at 24.5 and one year after recording 25 wins, they have 34. And there’s still three games left.
At the trade deadline this year, the front office considered several upgrades but nothing significant was completed. So instead, they added Jordan Nwora, who they had tracked for several years and wanted to see play with a bigger opportunity, along with veteran George Hill. And he hopes to be here indefinitely.
“Having a lot of optionality in the future is going to be really important to us,” Pritchard said in February. “We’re going to be aggressive. We really tried to be aggressive in this trade deadline and when we couldn’t acquire those players, we pivoted.”
They could not get caught up in the strong start to the season, in moving up to sixth in the Eastern Conference and grabbing some national attention. That was fool’s gold. Haliburton got hurt in New York, we all saw how they struggled to compete while he was away and the season was never the same; and that’s OK.
It was a necessary reality check.
So for the second straight season, the trade deadline served as a pivot point. And then over the last few months, the focus has been on player development and growth. Rightly so.
“At the end of the day, we have to worry about how we can keep developing,” said Pritchard. “That’s the way we’re going to be great some day. We’re not trying to punch it in to the ninth, 10th, eighth spot and fight for our lives in a playoff series against the top teams. We’re trying to think long term.”
And for that, they should be applauded. It’s not an easy conclusion, but it was the right course of action.
So now here we are, in the final week of the season with three games remaining. Turner, Haliburton and Chris Duarte are expected to be shelved the rest of the way and the final results will play a big factor in where they’ll be drafting come June.
As I’ve said all season, it was important for this team to draft high in the lottery for the third straight year — and not waste that opportunity — and then, hopefully, not be a participant for another decade.
Now, good luck holding veterans like Buddy Hield and T.J. McConnell out this week. They’re both in the over-30 club, but neither want to miss games. In fact, Carlisle highlighted what McConnell did last season, electing to return for the final three games after missing two-thirds of the season for surgery on his right hand.
“He had the unlucky, freak injury to his wrist and missed four months,” Carlisle said. “But then he came back and played the last three games of the season, which very few guys would do. This is just part of his competitive DNA.”
They host the New York Knicks on Wednesday, the lowly Detroit Pistons on Friday and then close out the 2022-23 campaign with a matinee in New York at 1 p.m. ET.
“We got to continue to work to do better defensively,” Carlisle said of his message to the team. “The last couple of games, we’ve had pretty decent games. New York is going to present a lot of challenges because they really drive the heck out of it and their rebounding is a big issue.
“We had a good practice today. These games will come very quickly and they’ll be done very quickly.”
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New CBA Agreement Reached
At 2:57 a.m. ET on April 1, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association issued a joint press release that they had reached a tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. That would become official for next season.
But first, it has to be written up and ratified by the players and team owners.
It will be very interesting and important to read through and analyze once it has been completed. However, until then, there’s only been incomplete details leaked.
Like the requirement for 65 games played in a season for a player to quality for end of season awards, like MVP and All-NBA. That, then, has a direct impact on their salaries and the history of the league.
An in-season tournament is inevitable — and I’m not a fan of it, just like I’m not a fan of the play-in tournament. I’d rather expand the season another week and give players more rest between games than hammer out who finishes seventh and eighth in each conference, often leading to a first-round sweep.
Another big focus appeared to be in leveling the playing field. As my friend and mentor Brian Windhorst accurately labeled the Warriors’ 2022 championship as a “checkbook win.” They spent a ton of money, paying heavily into the tax, whereas other owners chose not to. (Note: Just because you can spend doesn’t mean you should. Only do so when a team is a championship contender.)
The next thing to watch for: new national television packages for substantial price increases.
A Dud of a Men’s National Title Game
Monday night’s game left a lot to be desired. It started off similarly to UConn vs Butler, also in Houston, back in 2011. There ended up being a lot of fouls, leading to more scoring, but it was a bad watch.
The other thing I noticed: Still, a day later, there’s more talk about the women’s Final Four. They have an ingredient that is often missing from the men’s game: familiarity.
They have star power.
Could you name one player before the men’s championship game? Probably not. But you knew Jim Nantz, because he’s been in the same chair calling that game for nearly 40 years. Even the coaches weren’t the likes of Tom Izzo, Bill Self, John Calipari or Mark Few.
When discussing the 2023 draft class, the first several names didn’t even play college basketball — Victor Wembanyama (overseas), Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite), and the Thompson brothers, Amen and Ausar (Overtime Elite). Yes… Alabama’s Brandon Miller is absolutely part of that conversation now, but his team was clouded in controversy and was an early exit.
And then there’s the transfer portal, which has led to more player movement. Many rosters turn over with just a few players returning. All that led to the least-watched title game in history.
Whereas in the women’s basketball, which crushed over the weekend, players mostly stay put for several years. That, among many reasons, is why the IU women’s team was so much fun with Grace Berger, Mackenzie Holmes and their record season.
Pacers Rookie Honored
… No, not who you may be thinking of. Jermaine Samuels Jr., who went undrafted out of Villanova, finished third for the G League’s Most ImproveD Player award. He spent the season playing for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Starting in 29 of 32 games, he averaged 18.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Carlisle was high on him going back to the pre-draft workouts and Samuels visited twice, then joined the franchise for summer league.
The award went to Golden State Warriors two-way guard Lester Quinones. Long Island Nets guard Jordan Bowden finished in second.