Changing Pacers strut early certainty

Sam Amico
Sam Amico

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INDIANAPOLIS — Perusing the coverage of Media Day across the NBA, it all generally coalesces around a predictable and disposable theme for every team: We think we have a chance to be really good this year.

And so a host of beat reporters, columnists and professional bloggers are justifiably inclined to dig deeper, to extract deeper meaning from canned responses and push out some serious content.

I’ll take a different approach to recapping the Indiana Pacers’ Media Day and simply try to pass along a few interesting nuggets and moments of candor that surfaced through the day’s agenda.

I cannot draw any grand conclusions about what the season might hold for the Pacers based on a half day of boiler plate Q&A. So instead, enjoy a few of the more interesting Media Day quotes — Monta Ellis is pretty soft-spoken and thoughtful but gave some great answers — along with some of my observations and inferences:

1. Frank Vogel noted that the decision to transition the Pacers from a slow, grinding style to a smaller, more athletic system was actually made during the latter half of the 2014-15 season. This struck me as very odd timing for such a major organizational shift, given that the Pacers contended for a playoff spot down to the wire last year. But it was also bold and an early admission that to compete long-term, a roster and system makeover for this season was essential.

vogel1

Frank Vogel

2. Vogel was asked about preparing to play Monta Ellis’ teams in the past. He said that every Pacer defensive scouting report began with stopping Ellis, and then added, “He’s a nightmare to prepare for.” I don’t know if I believe him, but that’s high praise and should certainly signal to Ellis that the coach believes in his talent.

3. Vogel was extremely, even unusually, high on Chase Budinger. In fact, he casually mentioned that during pickup games in September, he thought Budinger shot roughly 60-70 percent from 3-point range.

4. Paul George was asked about assuming a bigger leadership role in the wake of Roy Hibbert and David West’s departure. After citing George Hill as something of a co-leader, George seemed to almost reassure himself, saying, “I’ve got big shoulders, I can handle it.”

5. Paul George said he thinks the Pacers can finish in the top three of the East and then mentioned Atlanta as evidence of why Indy could surprise the rest of the conference. This is exactly the kind of (irrational?) confidence that I imagine surfaces at every team’s Media Day.

6. In a nod to his enhanced leadership role, Paul George bluntly said of rookie center Myles Turner, “If he doesn’t pan out to be great, it’s my fault. That’s how I’m looking at it.” He went on to compare Turner favorably to LaMarcus Aldridge.

7. George Hill was also asked about being a leader. In the course of answering, he mentioned that he has been around the great leaders and then proceeded to rattle off a list of San Antonio Spurs (“Tim, Tony, Manu, Coach Pop”) before finally adding one Pacer, Jeff Foster, which came way out of left field, to me.

8. Hill’s hair is dyed blonde. He intends to keep it that way, laughing and offering that “they say blondes have more fun.”

9. Monta Ellis gave a long pause and candid answer when asked if he would label himself a good defender: “Only a handful of guys can you even say play defense in this league.” He’s got a point, though I abide by the rule that talented offense will almost always beat even the most tenacious defense.

10. Ellis was asked about his offseason and how he prepares. Again he offered an honest reply that drew laughter, if not the approving eye of Pacers’ coaches and staff: “I take two months off from basketball after the season ends. I need time for my body to rest.  A month before the next season starts is when I get into shape.  But the majority of the summertime, I’m fishing.”

11. When asked if he came to the Pacers because Dallas didn’t want him, Ellis again provided a simple but refreshingly candid response, saying, “Bird and Coach (Vogel) came down and they wanted me. With Dallas, it was in my face – they (Dallas) never sat down and talked contract. It was obvious.”

12. During the interview sessions, a young boy — maybe 6 or 7 years old — interviewed a number of players. Most interviews, including the one with Paul George, ended with the player and the kid doing the whip and nae nae dance.

13. C.J. Miles said one of the reasons he stayed in Indianapolis during the offseason was because of all-day, everyday access to a gym and coaches, adding, “If you leave, you got to pay somebody! So I got it (my training) for free!”

14. Toney Douglas didn’t draw much media attention, but I watched him spot up at the three point arc of Bankers Life Field House amidst a small media scrum and practice his shooting form — without a ball, of course, but also with no basket anywhere in sight.  Not sure what he was aiming at, but then he’s in the NBA and I’m not, so whatever.

Related: Exclusive one-on-one with Pacers’ Rakeem Christmas

Jeff Kasler covers the Pacers for Amico Hoops