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Pacers talk expectations, excrement

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Coach Frank Vogel surrounded by (from left): Pacers David West, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, Roy Hibbert, and Paul George. - HANNAH SWITZER
  • Hannah Switzer
  • Coach Frank Vogel surrounded by (from left): Pacers David West, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, Roy Hibbert, and Paul George.

By Jon R. LaFollette (@JonFilet) with contributions from David Searle (@DaveSearle)

Pacers Media Day took an unexpected turn when George Hill made an offhand comment about his summer routine.

"I tweeted a long time ago 'I feel 10 pounds lighter,' and the media guy wrote a story that I lost 10 pounds," Hill said. "I was referring to taking a poop."

While Hill was wont to treat his time at the podium like a stand-up comedy set, pleading for his own television show while boasting of his prowess as a rapper, he also took responsibility for his role on a team with serious hopes of winning a championship.

"I want to be the vocal leader on the floor," said Hill. "I think that's going to be my job this year."

Team President Larry Bird has described the upcoming season as "all in" in pursuit of the franchise's first NBA title — a sentiment head coach Frank Vogel echoed.

"When you trade away a future first [round pick] and one of your young players, like we did to bring in a veteran like Luis Scola, I think you send a little bit of a message," Vogel said. "This is a go-for-it time."

Scola, a seven-year pro from Argentina acquired in an offseason trade with Phoenix, was highly touted by his new teammates.

"Scola can play," center Roy Hibbert said. "He catches the ball and brings it down [the court] like a point guard himself. He's such a great passer."

Scola will contribute from the bench along with point guard C.J. Watson and forward Chris Copeland. Both signed as free agents over the summer. The trio will look to improve a second string unit ranked near the bottom of the league just a year ago.

Pacers Team President Larry Bird - HANNAH SWITZER
  • Hannah Switzer
  • Pacers Team President Larry Bird

But the team promised an improved bench last season as well. How is this year different?

"I guess we'll see," Bird said. "I don't have a magic wand and I don't have a crystal ball. But I like the guys we brought in and I hope it works out."

Another area of concern involves team captain Danny Granger, a one-time All-Star who missed all but five games last season to a knee injury.

Despite his absence, however, the Pacers came within one game of punching a ticket to the NBA Finals. Paul George blossomed in his new role as a primary scorer and shooting guard Lance Stephenson, once a raw street baller, refined his game and developed into a three-point threat.

As Granger recovers from surgery and aims to reenter the starting lineup, some wonder how the three wings, and their various skill sets, will co-exist.

"You're longer when Danny is in the game," Vogel said in reference to Granger's height. "And you become a better three-point shooting team. But you're probably a better running team when Lance is in the lineup."

Granger remains cautiously optimistic about his return and role with the team and is more focused on recovering.

"I need to be healthy," Granger said. "Whether I get the starting job or not is irrelevant at this point. If I'm not healthy then that's not going to matter."

Granger or no Granger, this Pacers team belongs to Paul George — who signed a 5-year max contract extension earlier this week.

"I know my role has jumped tremendously," George said. "I have to be comfortable to be the guy to takeover games and put games away."

Though George is currently entering his fourth season, his skills as an elite defender and steady scorer have already garnered recognition from around the league. He became a first-time All-Star in February, was the fourth Pacer to receive the Most Improved Player Award and received a nod of confidence from Miami Heat superstar LeBron James — a reigning back-to-back NBA champion.

As Indy has stockpiled talent in order to thwart James and company from a three-peat, so too have other Eastern Conference teams, including the Brooklyn Nets who acquired future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from Boston.

The basketball arms race has hit close to home for the 7-foot-2-inch Roy Hibbert, who finds himself a giant among giants in the Central Division. In a post-center league, each of the five Central Division teams (Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Indiana, Milwaukee) feature a traditional center — a growing anomaly in a league captivated by smaller, nimbler lineups.

Hibbert, who underwent a bevy of strength and conditioning routines over the summer, caught the eye of many pundits beat writers over the summer for his bulked-up physique. Hibbert claims to weigh 290 lbs.

"I just put my nose to the ground this summer," Hibbert said. "I was lifting. I went heavy on the legs and upper body. Hopefully it pays off this year."

Forward David West spent his summer away from the NBA bubble and kept as low a profile after signing a 3-year $36 million extension in June.

For West, signing elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent was not an option.

"At this stage in my career it's about competing as late into the spring and the summer as possible" West said. "And the opportunity to do that was best here."

And that's the goal for this Pacers team: Keep playing as the weather gets warmer, take last year's defensive powers and mesh them with this season's promising offensive capabilities, play what Vogel calls "smash mouth basketball," rely on the team chemistry Paul George describes as "unreal," lose 10 lbs. and win a ring.

Shooting guard Lance Stephenson, a formidable three-point threat, refined a foundation of raw street game. - HANNAH SWITZER
  • Hannah Switzer
  • Shooting guard Lance Stephenson, a formidable three-point threat, refined a foundation of raw street game.

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