Edmond Sumner

Edmond Sumner went airborne for a big dunk in the Pacers’ 119-110 season opening loss to the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 23. (Photo/David Dixon)

A new NBA season is upon us, and naturally the diehard Pacers fans are ready for what they feel should be a better year than the previous one. After all, when you plunk down your hard-earned cash for a ticket, you want the best possible product in return, right?

But with a number of new faces on the roster, what is actually realistic for this group, as opposed to the almighty NBA-Finals-or-bust mantra that many of you out there have?

Last year’s squad mustered up 48 wins and took it on the chin in the first round of the playoffs, but again, with a new campaign comes optimism. And while the team comprised in the off season has a ton of question marks and has struggled mightily out of the gate, what should your expectations be? Can you live with those, Pacers fans?

The biggest question mark for this team is clearly the health of their best all-around player, Victor Oladipo, who is still recovering from a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his right knee. General manager Kevin Pritchard is on the record saying he does not expect Oladipo back before December or January. While the rehab aspect of his recovery is reportedly progressing nicely, it truly is a guess as to when Oladipo can return to the lineup without restrictions. The All Star beak is what I personally feel is a safe prediction, and even then his minutes would be micro-managed for some time.

When he does return, he’ll have a few new teammates to get used to as the Pacers hit the free agent market and acquired Malcolm Brogdon, signing him to a four-year, $85 million deal. Additional new faces include T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb to go along with Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who the Pacers signed to a healthy extension just before the start of the season. While it’s anyone’s guess as to what the club can expect from guards Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner, it’s clear that this mixture of youth and new faces will present a challenge to head coach Nate McMillian and his staff, who did what I felt was a very respectable job overall last season. 

Predictions? Well, I’m going to remain positive here, and despite the fact that many feel this number is low, I’ll go with a .500 record, which is 41 wins and a low seed in the Eastern Conference. With Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Toronto and maybe even Boston being better teams top to bottom, it’s just not reasonable to expect more from the blue and gold this year. Could they surprise me and do better than break even? Sure, but it’s not likely, and my prediction could even be a bit on the high side, too.

Rather than speculate, go out and cheer your team on. As long as they play hard and work to increase their defensive prowess, rebounding and turnovers, it just might be a team that’s enjoyable to watch. While you’re doing that, be patient and above all realistic. Time will tell if I’m correct (I am) but there will be plenty of time for me to eat crow later. In the interim, if you can’t make it down to the games, tune in on television and radio and follow along. Buckle down as the ride will probably get rough, but at least there is reason for optimism. The question is: Will that keep you happy? I didn’t think so.

Danny Bridges, who thinks Nate McMillian should get Coach of the Year consideration if this group wins 41 games, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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