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Thursday, January 20, 2022

No shortage of optimism

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“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” – Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State.

Training camps in the National Basketball Association are usually very low key and uneventful.

Sure, there is the occasional holdout or promising rookie to chronicle, but for the most part it is a challenge to keep awake when witnessing all of the drills and scrimmages that serve as both a opportunity to impress coaches and a precursor to regular season games.

Yet this year is different for the Indiana Pacers as they began camp last weekend. Expectations for this group, after pushing eventual NBA champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, could not be higher, and everyone on the roster is acutely aware of it.

“I enjoyed my summer, but I have an itch to get started again,” offered Pacer point guard George Hill. “There is a bitter taste in my mouth after the way the season ended.”

Hill did not hesitate when asked what it would take to get to the next level this season, citing a ton of hard work was in order. “It has to be a team effort, from the first to 15th player on the roster,” added the fifth year pro.

That appears to be a clear consensus on this team. Veteran David West echoed the sentiment.

“There are seven or eight guys on this roster that can win a game for you,” said the obviously slimmer power forward. “Our bench is better and we have players that have been in tough game situations.”

The spotlight is squarely on one Paul George and the anticipated return of Danny Granger, who missed a large majority of last season with a knee injury. Both men were candid about what they felt was imminent and seem confident about the challenges that are ahead.

“We need to start the season strong,” said George, who can (and will) line up at both guard and forward for the Pacers this year. “Our chemistry is strong and that plays a huge role in our starting lineup.”

While George sees his role clearly, Granger is still hoping to return to the form that will allow him to be both a scoring threat and a leader on a team he describes as well balanced.

“The next two weeks of training camp will be so important,” said Granger, who is playing without a brace on his knee. “Gaining confidence after an injury is the key.’’

NOTES: Roy Hibbert has added some bulk to his frame and is clearly bigger than the 260 pounds he is listed at on the camp roster. Hibbert stated he is currently around 290 and that number, while clearly toned and strong, could drop a bit.

* * * * *

The Pacers are enthused about the three players they signed over the summer to augment their bench, which was downright anemic at times last year. Veteran power forward Luis Scola was acquired in a trade with Phoenix. Joining Scola will be point guard C.J. Watson who was signed as a free agent along with forward Chris Copeland who joins the Pacers after a stint with the New York Knicks.

* * * * *

Lance Stephenson enters the season in the final year of his contract. Stephenson had a solid year for Indiana last year and it is no secret that Larry Bird wants to re-sign him. The real question is will they match what he may command on the open market.

* * * * *

Rookie Solomon Hill has looked impressive according to teammates.

The fact that he attended college four years has not gone unnoticed by them in terms of his maturity, both mentally and physically. Look for Hill to earn some playing time. 

* * * * *

Perhaps one of the biggest acquisitions made was the hiring of associate head coach Nate McMillan. His experience as both a player and a head coach in the NBA will prove to be invaluable.

* * * * *

The Pacers play their first preseason game on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, when Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls come calling. They will then journey to the Philippines where they will play two games against the Houston Rockets.

Danny Bridges, who thinks this Pacers team is going to be fun to cover, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.

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