The Indiana Pacers may have lost six straight games going into the NBA All-Star break, but that might not be their biggest problem. The Indianapolis Star reveals that there may be a power struggle going on between Paul George, head coach Nate McMillan, and even president of basketball operations Larry Bird.
Last year, Bird began to remake his team to be a more up-tempo, high-scoring group. Part of Bird’s plan was to shift small forward Paul George to power forward on a regular basis, thinking it would be best for both the team and the player. George balked at playing a position where he would be subjected to more physical play, but the team did experiment with this on a limited basis during the 2015-16 season. Between George’s complaints and the lack of improvement the team saw as a result of his move to power forward, the Pacers eventually relented and George no longer logged minutes at the power forward spot.
As the 2016-17 campaign approached, Larry Bird made additional personnel moves to continue the shift toward up-tempo play, including engineering a trade for power forward Thaddeus Young, who is more in the mold of a “stretch four” and fits the style Larry Bird wants his team to play. With Young in the lineup, talk of Paul George playing power forward mostly faded away, but things are always in flux during the long NBA campaign, and circumstances changed as Indiana got to the midway point of their season.
Thaddeus Young sustained a wrist injury, which to date has kept him out for seven games, per Rotoworld. Young was replaced in the lineup by Lavoy Allen, but after a terrific performance in his first game as a starter, he began to experience knee pain and has also missed the past several games. With Indiana’s power forward rotation decimated, the team has gone 0-6 in their last six contests, as detailed by Fansided. With power forward depth a huge problem and a lengthy losing streak in tow, fans and media are starting to ask: why isn’t Paul George putting in any time at power forward?
The answer, according to Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel, is that George has refused to play the position, even though the team has a virtual crisis at that position right now. When head coach Nate McMillan was asked about the possibility of George filling in at power forward, he offered a very awkward but telling response.
“We’ve tried that, but Paul is…um, we’ve tried that some — but no. I wish it was that easy, and it really should be, but it’s not. That’s something he doesn’t want to do.”
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Paul George is very clearly putting his own agenda ahead of the team’s needs. Larry Bird planned to see George play some minutes at power forward over the past two seasons, but George balked at the idea. The Pacers’ head coach needs George to help fill the current void at that position, and even though Indiana has lost six games in a row, George did not comply when he was asked by the coach to play some minutes at that spot.
In today’s NBA, players have more power than ever — particularly star players like Paul George, who can leave Indiana via free agency after the 2017-18 season if he chooses to do so. They would never admit this publicly, but the team is concerned about pleasing their star player in an effort to keep him beyond his current contract. When you put yourself in that position as an organization, you are shifting the balance of power toward the player in question. George feels empowered (and entitled) to do what he wants, even if the coaching staff and management want him to do something else.
True superstars make their teammates better on the court, and they sacrifice their personal goals in order to do what is best for the team. Paul George has done a decent job with the former, but he has been a complete failure in the latter case. George shoulders most of the blame for this, but Larry Bird and Nate McMillan are also allowing George to get away with it, so to a smaller degree, they are complicit as well.
Bird and McMillan are in the difficult position of wanting to keep a star player with a small-market team, so their “kid gloves” treatment of George makes some sense from that perspective. However, once players start calling the shots, things within a team and an organization will begin to crumble. If the only way Indiana can keep Paul George in the long-term is to let him do what he wants when he feels like doing it, then the franchise would be better off letting him walk 16 months from now.
[Featured Image by Tony Dejak/AP Images]