Is Danny Granger capable of leading this team deep into the playoffs?
Many, including myself, were praising the Pacers and listing them as legitimate contenders.
Since that impressive road win at Dallas, they have now lost five of six. Things have suddenly turned ugly.
The season outlook has taken a major hit with their recent stretch of play. We're left perplexed as to how to view this.
Is it time for the Pacers to hit the panic button? Was their quick start a fluke and is reality now setting in? Does this team simply not have the firepower to actually contend in the Eastern Conference? Should they pursue a trade or seek to sign J.R. Smith?
Or, is this string of losses merely a slump that the Pacers will shake? Is this a typical midseason funk that most teams go through at some point during the year?
With this young Indiana squad, it's difficult to discern. Last year, they made the playoffs with only 37 wins, but did play the Chicago Bulls tough in the playoffs, despite losing the series in five games.
They launched into this year with momentum and some budding young talent. But are they beginning to wear down? Are opposing teams figuring out their weaknesses?
How should the Pacers respond to their recent slide?
Amidst this, the main question is how the Pacers should respond. Here are a few options:
1. Play through this, learn to fight adversity, and hope that the losing soon subsides.
2. Hit the panic button and seek minor help. The Pacers can reportedly offer J.R. Smith the most money but have neglected interest. Perhaps they should change their stance on this. They also could pursue center Chris Kaman to provide depth in the frontcourt.
3. Hit the panic button and seek major help. Steve Nash possesses an expiring contract, is he worth renting for a year?
The Pacers' recent slide has taken them outside the realm of being a contender. They've made strides this year, but come the playoffs, they are going to have major difficulty beating Miami or Chicago. Truthfully, they'll even struggle to beat a veteran team like the Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic or Atlanta Hawks.
Is this where the youthful Pacers just need to learn the bumps of the road together? Most teams get knocked down a handful of times before they reach the NBA pinnacle, and maybe this year will feature some of these bumps and bruises.
The bright spot is that the upcoming schedule is favorable. However, the grind picks back up again in March. For the Pacers to establish themselves as true contenders, they need to consistently reveal they can battle the elite teams.
Until then, an alarm should sound that questions whether or not this squad is capable of making major noise come the playoffs.
And frankly, if the Pacers want to contend this year, they most definitely need to make some form of a roster-enhancing move.