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NBA Daily: Chasson Randle Bullish On Sticking Around For Good

Spencer Davies chats with Golden State Warriors guard Chasson Randle about how he’s occupied his time during the NBA’s suspension, his back-and-forth journey between overseas and the states and more.

Spencer Davies

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Take a step into The Grindhouse.

No, not the appropriately-named raucous home of the Grizzlies on Beale Street in downtown Memphis. 

This particular Grindhouse is where Chasson Randle has been putting in daily work over the last month to stay on top of his strength and conditioning, thanks to the generosity of his girlfriend’s brother-in-law. In a garage equipped with weight racks, treadmills, and row machines, Randle has had a quality setup to maintain a routine as the NBA continues to figure out its next step amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s like a laboratory if you’ve ever seen I Am Legend,” Randle told Basketball Insiders in an exclusive phone interview. 

When he’s not playing virtual Connect 4 with his friends, trips to The Grindhouse and a private basketball gym have allowed Randle to appease the competitive fire he’s desperately missed in games… with himself. Whether it’s beating a previous number of weight reps within a set or recording better times on a bike, he’s found creative ways to keep busy and productive.

“I’m treating this like it’s the summer,” Randle said. “I’m preparing for a new season, even though I do expect the season to pick up and finish out. But even in the summertime, you can play pick-up games, you can play with other people and kind of get a feel for another body. But it’s just different.”

Two-and-a-half months into day nine of what he and his agent, Darrell Comer of YouFirstSports, jokingly refer to as the longest 10-day contract in NBA history, Randle has stayed in close contact with the Golden State Warriors through team meetings over the phone. His closest relationships are with Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins, the two guys to his left and right in the locker room, as well as Golden State mainstay Draymond Green. 

While the current record obviously doesn’t show what the franchise has accomplished over the last half-decade, Randle senses the same championship professionalism he experienced in the 2015 NBA Summer League as an undrafted free agent — his first taste of pro-ball after four strong seasons at Stanford University.

“Everything was still top-notch professional. They did a great job of treating the new guys who were coming in and kind of engaging them and thrusting them into their culture,” Randle said of the Warriors. “I think that’s the main thing that I’ve gained from them. The culture is very, very strong, and it was then back in 2015. They were professional, but they still knew how to have fun and make the game of basketball a treat to everyone.”

“They do everything to the highest level. The way they communicate, it shows why they’ve been to The Finals five straight years and why they’ve won three of ’em. It just shows the way they treat their players.”

Randle’s professional basketball journey has been anything but a straight line. Following that summer league stint with Golden State, the 6-foot-2 guard signed a contract with CEZ Nymburk to play overseas in the Czech Republic. After both winning a championship in the National Basketball League and competing in the VTB United League, he drew the attention of the New York Knicks in the summer of 2016.

Earning all-tournament honors in Orlando to the tune of 18.3 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game with a 55 percent clip from deep, the Knicks offered Randle his first training camp invite in the fall. He was waived after three preseason games, yet remained a part of the organization under its G League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks. In early January, the Philadelphia 76ers came calling and signed him to his first 10-day contract.

Though he sparingly played in spotty minutes for the Sixers, Randle remembers what head coach Brett Brown told him in a practice — something that’s been embedded in his mind during his career ever since.

“’’Participate in your own rescue,’” Randle recalls of the advice. “Sometimes in practice, you can just get caught up in watching what’s going on and trying to figure it out that way, but sometimes you have to get in there and get dirty and ask questions and be as active in your own process. 

“And I’m like, man, it really helped me because after that I played well in Philly and I signed a three-year deal with them with those trigger dates. And if it wasn’t for the trade — Nerlens Noel going to Dallas and them getting [Andrew] Bogut and Justin Anderson back — I think I could’ve stuck there, honestly.”

Randle was released by the 76ers as a result of that deal to clear roster space. The Knicks brought him back in to finish the rest of 2017 on a multi-year deal, but he was let go again that September due to another trade as Carmelo Anthony was sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott. Experiencing yet another unfortunate set of circumstances, Randle ventured back to Europe to join Real Madrid.

Just as his previous overseas stint culminated with a title, so did this one. On a stacked squad led by international superstar Luka Doncic, the club conquered the Euroleague and earned a championship. Though Randle didn’t receive nearly the same playing time as he did in the Czech Republic, teams in the NBA wanted to give him another shot. He returned to the Knicks’ summer league team in Orlando for a second straight year.

The Washington Wizards liked what they saw and extended an invite to Randle in the fall of 2018. He played three preseason games before being waived. He spent time with their G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, for a month until the team released him for the second time in November; but the Go-Go kept his rights and he kept playing. However, a little over a month later, lady luck would finally side with Randle thanks to, ironically, a trade.

When Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers were sent away, Washington re-signed Randle to a contract for the rest of the season. For the first time in his NBA career, he had a legitimate spot in a rotation with consistent playing time, demonstrating leadership and an excellent basketball IQ. Patience and smarts translated into Randle’s success, as he knocked down a career-best 40 percent of his threes and recorded 12 double-digit scoring efforts in 49 games with the Wizards.

“It gave me the opportunity to kind of have the full experience or closest thing to the full experience for being on an NBA team and playing a backup role. I enjoyed it,” Randle said. “It was great to be around Brad [Beal] and John [Wall] and Jeff Green and the guys that we had on that team who had been around in the league for a while — great basketball players. 

“I was grateful for the opportunity. I think that I really got the chance to show who I could be and who I am as a player, shooting the ball the way I did and being able to run an offense and pick up full-court and try to change the pace of the game.”

Throughout his twisting, turning path, Randle has always been a sponge. He takes bits and pieces of tips from everybody he encounters and uses that to better himself on and off the court. During his time in D.C., he attributes simply observing Beal and Wall being the first ones in the gym and the last ones to leave as an inspiration to his work ethic.

“When I walk into a room, I’m not always the loudest, but you better believe I’m listening to everything. I’m listening and I’m aware of everything that’s going on,” Randle said.

Desiring a more expanded role and a new challenge, Randle elected to go back overseas for the third time in his career — this time around, further east. Agreeing to a one-year deal with the Tianjin Pioneers of the Chinese Basketball Association, he had a plan in mind.

“Just for me to continue to develop my game, hold on a little more responsibility and allow my game to grow,” Randle said. “In China, I had the ball in my hands a lot more, so I’m getting those reps at the point guard position, getting a lot of minutes, seeing a lot of different defenses, seeing a lot of different double teams and having to do a little bit more so I can kind of grow my game.”

This was a short-term decision made with the long-term in mind. Randle figured the combination of lessons he learned from the previous season would manifest itself in his newest endeavor. He made good on that bet.

Averaging over 30 minutes for the first time in any league he’s played in, Randle exploded for 24.7 points, 4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. With his usage at a whopping 37.5 percent, he was anything but bashful, attempting over 19 shots per contest, nearly half of which were beyond the arc. By far, it was the most successful stint he’s had in any league yet.

It’s Jan. 21 in Sichuan, China. The Tianjin Pioneers have just beaten the Sichuan Blue Whales, 98-88, a game in which Randle pours in a team-high 20 points on the road. He gets back to the hotel where he sees a fan waiting for a picture and an autograph. After the exchange, the fan delivers Randle a frightening bit of news.

“’Have you heard what’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘No what’s going on?’” Randle remembers. “He’s like, ‘Man, there’s a virus going on in China. It’s very bad. People are dying, getting sick. Be careful.’ And then after that, I’m like, wow, nobody told me about this. This information is new to me.”

As soon as the Pioneers got back to Tianjin the next day, Randle did his research on the virus, now known worldwide as COVID-19. Before he knew it, the team canceled practice. The CBA had ceased operations and players were told not to leave their residences. Concerned that he could be stuck on lockdown in the city, Randle’s representation told him that he had to leave within the next few days. 

“That’s what we did. I stayed at my hotel for three days straight,” Randle said. “Luckily, I had food in there in the freezer and the refrigerator. I could whip something up for myself because I didn’t leave at all. At this time, we didn’t know how the virus was being transmitted and stuff, so I was just being super cautious.”

When those three days were up, Randle hopped in a cab with his bags and took a two-hour ride from Tianjin to the airport in Beijing for a direct flight back to the United States. He says it was crowded, although the experience was nothing out of the ordinary. Attendants took his temperature and that was about the only abnormal thing about it.

“It wasn’t like anything you’d see on Contagion or anything like that,” Randle explained. “At this time, it was early though. And I think a few days after that, they were like shutting off the country. So, it was perfect timing. People were trying to rush and get out a couple of days after that, so the timing was perfect and I’m glad it all worked out.”

Before — and while — that was going on, Randle was gaining momentum in NBA circles toward signing a contract with a team. The problem? Tianjin, believing that the season would resume and in fear of losing its top player, wouldn’t allow him to end his deal with the organization. Randle and Comer were extremely agitated with the handling of the situation, so the latter took it to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and aired out those frustrations on a public platform. 

Score a point for Randle and his representation.

“Once [Darrell] got me on the ticker, man, it kinda took over,” Randle said with a chuckle. “It spread like wildfire and [Tianjin] called back immediately and was like, ‘you know what? We’ll let him go. It’s not worth [the bad publicity].”

We’ve officially passed the mid-May mark. Randle is still in California as a part of the Warriors. His family back home in Rock Island, Illinois is doing well. He’ll FaceTime them and stay in contact to make sure they’re up to date on everything going on during the nationwide quarantine.

Rock Island means the world to Randle. It’s where he spent his childhood and teenage years growing up. It’s where he and his teammates won Rock Island High School’s first state championship. It’s where he earned the honor of being named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball. In each of the past three summers, Randle and his close friends have held Dream Big Youth Camp, a free-of-charge event for local kids from the town and surrounding neighborhoods. 

“I just basically try to give the kids that opportunity to learn basketball, but also learn other things that’ll help them later on in life,” Randle said. “So we teach them life skills. We had a class that was teaching like what it means to be an active citizen and what that looks like. We teach them decision-making, along with the basketball.

“I look at it like this: I went to plenty of camps when I was a kid and not all those kids ended up playing basketball, but some of those kids became doctors, some of them became policemen, whatever. I wanted to make sure with my camp, every kid could take away something from the camp and better themselves in whatever area they choose to pursue.”

Unfortunately, the annual camp is in jeopardy with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — but Randle is hoping that sometime in September could work pending on the scenario. 

Between working at the Grindhouse, getting shots up and figuring out plans for his camp, Randle has kept plenty busy — but even that isn’t all he’s up to. Since 2018, he has been actively designing apparel for his clothing line company, Volhard, set for launch in August.

“It means perseverance in both Dutch and Africans, loosely,” Randle said. “Really, it’s what I believe is the thing that every common person shares. Everybody’s had to persevere through something — it is imperative to my life and my story — so I wanted to kind of create through clothing and show that message to the world or whoever is willing to buy and support the brand.”

Randle designed every piece with the underrated drawing talent he has. In high school, he envisioned himself creating a clothing line. When basketball came into his life, his mother reminded him to take advantage of all of the gifts he has, not just his athletic side.

“Just be universal. Do a little bit of everything. Don’t be afraid. Take risks,” said Randle while recounting his mother’s wisdom. “And I really commend her for telling me that because that’s the way I live my life.”

Like everybody else, Randle is waiting for the NBA’s next move. Ultimately, he’s heard “mixed reviews” about the league and a return to normalcy. 

In a hypothetical situation where things get back up and running, it would take a minimum of two weeks to get into shape. Game speed is totally different than any self-conditioning. But unrelated to those factors — and with safety coming first and foremost, of course — he would love to see The Association come back for reasons beyond his own benefit.

“I think that it would definitely show how resilient and brave the league is and how powerful it could be,” Randle said. “It could be very, very powerful just to kinda unite. Sports is something that unites people and brings people together, and I think that if it came back, it would have the opportunity to do that.”

Whenever that could be, we don’t know quite yet. 

What we do know is that Randle is champing at the bit for an opportunity to show the NBA that he can consistently play at a high level on this stage — and if he finds the right fit, he plans on sticking around for good.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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