When Nate McMillan arrived in Indiana as an assistant coach in 2013, the Pacers were coming off a grueling seven-game series with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. While Miami ultimately won the series – and the NBA title – the Pacers took solace in knowing they were one game away from the NBA Finals and, potentially, a championship.
The Pacers got back to the conference finals in 2014 and again lost to Miami, this time in six games. Since then, the Pacers have gone 83-81 and haven’t won a playoff series.
“It’s a different team,” McMillan, now head coach of the Pacers, said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “David West is gone, Roy Hibbert is gone, Lance Stephenson is gone. This year, we played a different brand of basketball. We wanted to speed up the pace. The last three years that I’ve been here, we’ve been more of a smash-mouth team, a physical team, a half-court, great defensive team – and that changed this season because we changed our personnel. I’ll look at what we are able to do in the draft and who we’re able to pick up in free agency, and that will determine the style of play that we will be able to play. The main thing is to put your players in a position where they can be productive and do some good things. All of that depends on your personnel.”
That personnel will certainly include Paul George, who, after suffering a potentially career-ending leg injury in 2014, is once again among the NBA’s elite. George, one of the best two-way players in basketball, averaged 23.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals this season.
The 26-year-old almost single-handedly lifted the Pacers to a first-round win over Toronto, but the Raptors survived a seven-game marathon. Improving George’s supporting cast will be paramount to the Pacers’ title hopes going forward.
McMillan knows that. So does Larry Bird.
“He knows what he wants to do, and he knows how he wants to get there,” McMillan said of Bird. “He has the final decision on the personnel that we will be able to put on the floor, but as far as the coaching, that will be my decision. We know that we want to really catch up with the league in a sense. Teams are playing much faster. Players have a lot of versatility. We’re trying to bring in those players to keep with what is going on in the league. The East, I think, is getting stronger each year so things are starting to balance out, and the half-court, pound-it-inside style of basketball – you’re not seeing much of that. That is not where the league is going, and we are certainly on board in trying to put together a team that can continue to compete and hopefully one day compete for a championship.”