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Swagger gave way to complete meltdown

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A season that started with such promise ended with a whisper. Literally.

Lance Stephenson’s sweet nothings whispered into the ear of LeBron James seemed to be a final futile act of desperation in a rocky Pacer melodrama that was the most torturous in memory.

This team was good enough. In the end, though, the gulf between October potential and May reality was deep and wide.

What may be most disappointing is not that Indiana lost the Eastern Conference Finals to Miami yet again, it is that it lost its class and dignity in the process. Whining about calls, flopping like bluegill, blowing into opponents’ ears — this is not Pacers basketball. What happened to blue collar/gold swagger? This was a complete breakdown.

Unlike last year’s game 7 loss to the Heat, there is little to feel good about. Indiana labored all year to get a homecourt advantage for this Game 7. In the end, they didn’t even get to play it.

This is not a “wait til next year” moment. Does anyone really want a repeat of what we just saw?

So, we begin the postseason autopsy. What went wrong and how can it be fixed? There is plenty of blame to go around and even more thoughts on what to do next.

This is where you come in. If you were in charge, what would you do? Answer these questions to get started.

Q. 1 The biggest single reason for the Pacers’ failure to advance to the NBA Championship is:

a. The disappearance of all-Star center Roy Hibbert;

b. A $26 million bench that underperformed;

c. Lance Stephenson’s immaturity;

d. Coach Frank Vogel’s failure to make adjustments.

Q. 2 Point guard George Hill is:

a. A quality NBA point guard that meets the team’s needs;

b. A good local kid who has reached his potential;

c. Not a player who can take Indiana to the next level;

d. A capable second-unit player at best.

Q. 3 The one person who is untouchable in any revamp of the team is:

a. Paul George;

b. David West;

c. Lance Stephenson;

d. No one is untouchable.

Q. 4 Regarding soon-to-be free agent Lance Stephenson, the Pacers should:

a. Pay what it takes to keep him;

b. Pay up to $10 million a year;

c. Release him;

d. Defer to what his teammates privately suggest.

Q. 5 The biggest blame for this season’s underachievement goes to:

a. The starters for failing to handle the expectations;

b. The bench for failing to provide support;

c. Coach Vogel for failing to require accountability;

d. President Larry Bird for a number of unproductive trades.

There is no answer key here. Right and wrong are relative. The only thing certain is that change will occur. How substantial remains to be seen. Is this a team a tweak or two away from a title run or one whose fatal flaws require a complete overhaul?

With no first round pick (traded for Luis Scola) and little cap room (unless Stephenson is jettisoned), a summer when many Pacer fans expected to celebrate a NBA championship has turned into one filled with more questions than answers.

A season that started with a roar goes out with a whisper.

Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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