Indiana and the rest of the NBA learned the 2017-18 schedule Monday, and the Pacers' quest is of particular interest because they traded George to the Oklahoma City Thunder during the offseason in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
George is a two-way star who served as the face of the franchise for most of his seven seasons thanks to his ability to guard the opponent's best player and carry the offense on a nightly basis. Myles Turner, who is just 21 years old, will now assume the role of face of the franchise and the leadership responsibilities that come with it in what could be a rebuilding year for the team.
With that in mind, here is a look at a breakdown of Indiana's 2017-18 campaign.
Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 18, vs. Brooklyn Nets (7 p.m. ET)
Championship Odds: 500-1, via OddsShark
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Oklahoma City Thunder: Wednesday, Dec. 13, vs. Oklahoma City (7 p.m. ET)
The Pacers are not realistic title contenders this season, so fans have to look elsewhere for intrigue after the schedule release.
The showdowns against the Thunder stand out because of the George factor. Indiana fans will have the opportunity to see the former Pacer play alongside reigning MVP Russell Westbrook and either boo the superstar or recognize him for his accomplishments during seven seasons with the team.
While the George trade gained serious steam after he reportedly told the front office he would enter free agency and play elsewhere in the summer of 2018, per Adrian Wojnarowski (then of The Vertical), he did express his gratitude to Indiana in an Instagram post after the move:
Elsewhere, Oladipo and Sabonis will face their old team, but the primary storyline will be George against the only NBA squad he has ever played for in his career. Oklahoma City will also have the chance to pick up a couple of critical wins against a beatable opponent to bolster its position in what figures to be a daunting Western Conference race.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Cleveland (7 p.m. ET)
One figure has cast a looming shadow over many of Indiana's recent playoff appearances—LeBron James.
His Cleveland Cavaliers swept Indiana in the first round this past season, although the four games were largely competitive. What's more, James' Miami Heat knocked out the Pacers in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference Finals in seven and six games, respectively, as well as the second round in 2012.
Beating James will surely take priority for Indiana given its recent history, although these games won't feature the one-on-one battles with the King and George.
Cleveland is the clear-cut standard-bearer in the Eastern Conference, and any chance the Pacers—or any other team in the East—has at causing a surprise will go through the Cavaliers.
These games will provide Indiana the opportunity to make head-to-head statements, especially if James and the Cavaliers are more focused on the playoffs and not as locked in for the regular-season contests.
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Indiana has been a solid presence in the East in recent seasons, and its 42-40 effort in 2016-17 clinched its sixth playoff appearance in seven years.
However, personnel losses were the biggest storyline of the offseason, and they went beyond just George. The Pacers also waived Monta Ellis, and Jeff Teague signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, leaving the team without two of its previous offensive playmakers.
The relatively weaker Eastern Conference will work in Indiana's favor even with the talent loss. ESPN underscored the talent disparity between the conferences after George was traded to the Thunder and Jimmy Butler was shipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves, among other moves:
With Paul George moving West, only 1 of the top 14 players in last year’s #NBARank will be in the Eastern Conference. https://t.co/xmexPKuWxB2017-7-1 02:23:48
The lack of stellar competition within the East isn't the only reason for optimism in Indiana.
Turner figures to develop after averaging 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his second season as a consistent double-double threat. He has the chance to make a significant leap in his third season with more experience under his belt, and there are some complementary pieces around him in Oladipo, Sabonis, Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Still, it is impossible to overlook the loss of George and others on what was already a questionable group of talent when projecting a down season for the Pacers.