Something interesting is going on with the Indiana Pacers.
For years, the Pacers tried to build with physically talented players who were as likely to be self-immersed and cranky as cooperative and team-oriented. Monta Ellis, for example, seemed not to be a fan of humanity at all as he profanely dressed down rookies Myles Turner and Joe Young in the locker room in full view of the media.
Maybe it’s coincidence, but the five players acquired by the Pacers through the past two drafts – Chris Duarte, Isaiah Jackson, Kendall Brown, Andrew Nembhard, and Bennedict Mathurin – are very likable guys who appear genuine in their comments about winning and being a part of a successful team.
I’m not sure I ever saw the recently traded Malcolm Brogdon smile, much less appear to enjoy anything associated with basketball. His desire to provide drinking water to Africa is a magnificent gesture by a human being with bigger fish to fry than throwing a leather ball through a hoop, but the Pacers are in business to win games and engage a fanbase. There was no reason Brogdon couldn’t do both, but decided not to.
Whether this recent influx of good guys brings the NBA Championship that has forever eluded the franchise is going to be answered over the next few seasons. But if the Pacers are going to lose a little bit before they start winning, better to do it with smiling faces like Tyrese Haliburton‘s than dour fellows who view each day in Indianapolis as part of their current unpleasant reality.
Indianapolis is a great town for specific types of people. For those who want to live an ordinary life while doing extraordinary things for insane wealth, Indy is Nirvana. Athletes move as easily here as accountants and teachers. Andrew Luck can go to a bar, drink a microbrew, and play trivia without worrying about autograph seekers or selfie hounds. Reggie Miller can get breakfast at a Fishers restaurant without harassment. Peyton Manning used to get lunch after workouts at a McAllister’s, and the only person I saw approach him was Fox 59’s Chris Hagan.
For brand-builders, Indy is America’s 25th largest media market with people more interested in their own families than those of local celebrities. That is not the best fit for those who value IG followers more than wins.
Indy seems to suit these most recent Pacers in ways it didn’t for the previous generation, including Paul George, who fit nicely here – until he and his team of advisors decided to reveal Paul as disingenuous (that’s nice guy Hoosier for “liar”) and too big for one of the tiny cluster of lights that lie between New York and Los Angeles.
This group of Pacers seem to suit the city where they play and the fans who cheer them, and I look forward to watching to see if this obviously purposeful experiment in drafting quality people rather than pure physical characteristics is a success.
The work starts in the Las Vegas Summer League Friday at 6p.