Determining what these mistakes were should serve as a springboard for a more successful campaign in 2014-15.
In years past, the Pacers' blunders took a heavy toll on the franchise. Drafting guys like Jamaal Tinsley, David Harrison and Shawne Williams, for one. Putting up with the shenanigans of Stephen Jackson, Marquis Daniels and the former Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) for another.
Questionable trades? Sure, there were some. Trading Mark Jackson to the Denver Nuggets in 1996 was one of them (the Pacers got Jalen Rose in return, but got off to a lackluster 25-27 start in 1996-97 before reacquiring him), per Complex.com's Rafael Canton.
Indy also made some bad hires. The most notable of which was tapping Jim O'Brien to become head coach in June 2007.
As for this season's Pacers, a team projected to contend for the NBA title, they were terrific during the first 52 games and flat-out horrible in their next 30 before regaining some of their swagger in the postseason.
From acquiring Evan Turner to letting George Hill man the starting point guard spot, Indiana's mistakes are not as fatal as in years past. The core of the team is still young. Making key acquisitions and making sure guys like Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson (assuming he re-signs with the team) keep their heads in place will go a long way.
The Frank Vogel and Lance Stephenson Issues
Let's start with head coach Frank Vogel. Was retaining him a mistake?
No, it wasn't.
Vogel helped get the Pacers off to a torrid start. They maintained their intensity on the defensive end and on the glass. When Indy started to crumble and when Roy Hibbert began playing like Greg Dreiling, Vogel kept the faith. He never wavered in his trust in his players despite the horrific slide.
Vogel could have berated his players, especially Stephenson, who, despite his tremendous upside, has a knack for being immature. Vogel didn't. He stayed true to himself and never tried to be somebody he wasn't.
In the end, he found himself guiding the Pacers to a second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance while enduring Hibbert's zero-point performances, Turner's incompetence off the bench and those turnovers which Indiana has become known for.
Pacers.com's Mark Montieth weighed in on Vogel's performance this past season in his June 2 article:
Vogel is much like his players. He's still a young coach, still in the improvement phase of his career, as opposed to the jaded, burn-out phase. The psychological issues his team faced were mostly beyond his control.
To know whether he dealt with them the best way possible would have required bugging his meetings with individual players. Ultimately, though, the Pacers were eliminated by a better team with two certain future Hall of Famers in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and possibly three, with Chris Bosh.
As far as Lance Stephenson was concerned, his detractors focused more on his on-court theatrics rather than his performance on the hardwood. He averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in the regular season and 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists in the postseason.
By taking a long, hard look at those stat lines (plus his five triple-doubles), you can tell that Stephenson was consistent all year long. Sure, he struggled in spots, but not to the degree that guys like Luis Scola and Roy Hibbert did. Stephenson was by far the team's hardest worker.
Montieth also spoke about Stephenson:
Stephenson, though, has improved and matured significantly since he was plucked out of the second round of the draft, and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to progress.
The comparisons to Stephen Jackson and the forward formerly known as Ron Artest are foolish. They're all different people, for one thing. Stephenson's off-court life is more stable, for another thing. He still lives with is parents, for crying out loud.
Stephenson's biggest mistake was riling up LeBron James in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The former paid for it dearly, as the Pacers were blown out by 25 in the next game, a loss that finished them off in the playoffs.
Nonetheless, if Indy lets Stephenson (who will be unrestricted free agent) walk away, they will be making their first mistake of the 2014-15 season.
The Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum Fiascos
Two of the most glaring mistakes the Indiana Pacers made in 2013-14 were acquiring Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum.
At first, the thought of Turner donning Pacers blue and gold seemed to be too good to be true. As painful as trading Danny Granger was, he simply wasn't the same player he used to be. Getting Turner, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft who can score and create shots, was just what the Pacers needed in order to boost their inept bench.
Turner didn't materialize as a bench player. From the moment he became a Pacer, he didn't fit into the team's offensive schemes. What's worse, he was a huge defensive liability. Granger was no Ron Artest, but he could hold his own better than Turner did.
As the season wore on, Turner's playing time diminished. That's one fewer asset off the bench for Indiana. Instead of getting deeper, the Pacers' second unit became thinner. What's bad news for the Pacers was good news for LeBron and Co.
Andrew Bynum made more of an impact. It's unfortunate he suited up in just two games for Indiana. Had he been healthy and Turner been a factor, the Pacers would have beaten the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It also turns out signing Bynum had an effect on Roy Hibbert, who we all know suffered through what was arguably the worst season of his NBA career. USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt explains:
Andrew Bynum didn't work, either. Signing the castoff former All-Star center was a gamble, and (Larry) Bird knew that. But the signing had unintended consequences, particularly on center Roy Hibbert.
While Hibbert never came out and disagreed with the signing, his feelings were exposed during All-Star Weekend. NBATV's Steve Smith asked Hibbert about the acquisition, and he immediately said backup Ian Mahinmi was having a good season.
With this, it is clear Hibbert didn't want to talk about Andrew Bynum. It was also around that time when Hibbert's play took a serious nosedive. There could have been other issues that may have affected Hibbert, but if signing Bynum was one of them, he never should have made the mistake of taking it personally.
On Chris Copeland, George Hill and Paul George
It sure would have been fun to witness Chris Copeland give the Pacers a lift off the bench the way he did in his rookie year with the New York Knicks.
Instead, Copeland ended up like a Duane Ferrell or Kenny Williams type of player—a 12th man off the bench.
Copeland is a player who can space the floor very well with his outside shooting. The Pacers offense showed a tendency to be stagnant. As a result, Indy was not a very good offensive team (just 24th in the NBA). Copeland's presence could have helped remedy the situation.
On the issue of his defense, he showed he could lock down opposing forwards like he did against the Atlanta Hawks' Paul Millsap in Game 5 of their first-round series. Vogel's mistake was not playing Copeland more, especially during those times when Hibbert's offense sputtered. The Pacers could have used his offense then.
As for George Hill, he had a decent season. He also had his moments during the playoffs. However, it became evident after his second year as a starter concluded that he is really a combo guard. The Pacers need a playmaker in the mold of a Mark Jackson to keep their offense humming.
As previously mentioned, Indy's offense has a tendency to stagnate. Several players, particularly Stephenson and Paul George, tend to dribble the basketball way too much. An offense predicated on crisp passing and execution will make this team more formidable.
For his part, Paul George never should have criticized the officiating in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, incurring a $25,000 fine in the process. He knows better than that. He's just 24, so he'll learn.
On a brighter note, congratulations on being named to the All-NBA Third Team and the NBA All-Defensive First Team. Job well done, PG.
The Parting Shot
The Indiana Pacers' mistakes are something they are sure to look back on in order to be a better team next season. Immaturity issues, such as some of Lance Stephenson's antics, Paul George criticizing the officiating and Roy Hibbert taking exception to the signing of Andrew Bynum, should decrease.
Bird will also no doubt look into the Turner and Bynum acquisitions as guides for making the necessary changes to the bench this offseason.
Another takeaway for Indy in 2013-14 was George Hill would be more suited to the role of a combo guard and that it would be better off with a playmaking point guard as its starter.
As for Copeland, whether we will see him play more or not is Vogel's call. Why sign a player of his upside for $6.12 million if he will just languish on the bench?
To sum things up, if the Indiana Pacers can somehow get over their emotional immaturity issues, make the necessary changes and learn from their mistakes, they should still be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of June 6 and are courtesy of ESPN.
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