Playing good basketball isn't enough to garner headlines these days. Steady improvement doesn't lead to great TV ratings. Team improvement isn't as attractive as an individual star's personal growth. Let's be honest, we're all interested in Amar'e Stoudemire's summer work with Hakeem Olajuwon and how that will change things for the New York Knicks, aren't we? Derrick Rose's road to recovery is something that's more interesting than most team-oriented stories not involving LeBron James, right? Yes, in today's world of sports people are attracted to stars and the stories surrounding their team. Many times winning is secondary.
So don't expect to hear much about the Indiana Pacers too much this season.
You'll hear about the Heat and the Celtics most of the time in the Eastern Conference, which is okay. Those two teams have multiple NBA Finals appearances and a title to their credit. But you'll also hear more about the Knicks, Nets and 76ers than the Pacers, which confuses me.
The Pacers were much improved in the 2011-12 campaign. They had a great year and gave the Heat everything they could handle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They could be better this season, but they haven't been mentioned by anyone as a team with the slightest chance of competing for the NBA championship.
The Pacers, however, won't get caught up in the dismissal of their championship chances. In fact, they're pretty confident in Indiana. The media may not be talking about them, but they're sure the elite teams in the league know they're a team on the rise.
"We expect to win every night and we expect to compete for the number one seed in the East," Frank Vogel said. "We understand that Miami is the gold standard and everyone is chasing them, but we believe we’re one of the best teams in the league."
All-Star center Roy Hibbert isn't overly concerned with the team's lack of attention. He knows the Pacers won't catch anyone by surprise this season and that's all the respect he needs.
"We’re not sneaking up on anyone this season," Roy Hibbert said. "We’re still not very publicized because we don’t have any star players or anything like that, but teams know what they’re going to get when they play us.
"We can play with anybody. Miami won the whole thing, but if the ball bounces differently, if we make a few more shots and a few more stops it could have been us advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. The hunger that we have from last season is pushing us to strive for more this season."
There is an understanding in Indiana that the success of last season was great, but won't win them any games this season. They've learned how good they can be, but that's it. Last season is over and they're focused on taking another step towards the NBA Finals.
"This group has a healthy drive and determination to be great; they’re not assuming anything," Vogel said. "There is an understanding that chemistry needs to be reestablished every year. Work ethic needs to be reestablished every year as well as the development of learning habits. They’ve been very much dialed into that fact and I haven’t seen any complacency at all."
The Pacers expect to be great. They expect to be in the championship hunt from day one. They understand that elite teams are great every time they step on the court. They seem to understand what it takes to be great and willing to do the required work.
"We’ve had a progression in the past few years," Vogel said. "When I first took over we were still the relentless underdogs trying to make the playoffs and do our best against the Bulls. The next year we added David West, George Hill and (Leandro) Barbosa, and felt like we had a good team going into the season. I think our guys spent the first half of the season building the belief that we were one of the elite teams in the league. This season we’ve entered training camp believing that we’re one of the elite teams in the league. Having that belief instilled will, hopefully, get us off to a strong start."