INDIANAPOLIS — As Myles Turner strolled from camera to camera Monday, everything seemed different about the Indiana Pacers’ media day.
Last year’s feature attractions, Paul George and Jeff Teague, were long gone. Larry Bird wasn’t holding court. Heck, Turner wasn’t even posing inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Yes, it’s a clean slate for the completely overhauled Pacers.
“There’s a different energy in this building,” Turner said. “The summer workouts have been great, but there’s just a different energy now.”
A lot of different names, too.
Since getting knocked out of the playoffs by LeBron James’ team, again, Indiana has undergone a major rebuild — one the new management team didn’t even want to implement.
Initially, new president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard wanted to go all in on making a deep playoff run this year in hopes of convincing George to stay with the team that drafted him.
But when George’s camp leaked word publicly that the four-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist had no intention of playing for the Pacers beyond 2017-18, Pritchard was out of options and had little leverage to get equal value in a trade.
Pritchard salvaged what he could by sending George to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. He picked up Cory Joseph in another trade and also signed free agents Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison.
When the summer was over and the Pacers moved into their shiny new practice facility, only six guys remained from last season’s roster and the 21-year-old Turner suddenly found himself playing a far more significant role.
“I think he didn’t really have to be the man before, but now he’s more confident and comfortable in leading his team,” said forward Thaddeus Young, one of the holdovers. “It seems like he wants to lead this team.”
Turner does, though he’s also content to share his new title with others.
He has a few players he can lean on.
Young and veteran center Al Jefferson have been around the league long enough to know what it takes to thrive under these circumstances, and Joseph comes over from the Toronto Raptors, an Eastern Conference contender each of the past two seasons.
Lance Stephenson is back in the sixth-man role after bouncing around the league the last two seasons.
And Oladipo returns to the state where he went from being a fan favorite in college to being the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft in just three years. Hoosiers fans remember how he helped revive Indiana’s program, and after three seasons of steady progression, Oladipo appears primed for a breakout season that could keep the Pacers in the postseason picture.
“Vic’s explosive. I didn’t really realize how athletic he is,” Turner said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him in transition and beating guys off the dribble.”
Pritchard had other needs on his wish list, too.
He wanted the team to get younger, faster and more athletic. He wanted to get better defensively. And while he wanted the playoffs still to be attainable, he needed some foundational pieces for long-term success.
So he kept plugging away to find options for coach Nate McMillan, who must put the pieces together before Indiana’s season opener Oct. 18 against Brooklyn.
Everyone wants to know how much else will look different that night. Not even McMillan can answer that right now.
But one thing that won’t change is the goal.
“For the most part, I think I know these guys. So it won’t be that different. We just have to get them out there,” McMillan said. “But we’re in the business of winning, and that’s what we’re focusing on. There’s a lot of uncertainty with our group, with our style and all that. But we’re in the business of winning.”
Turner couldn’t imagine it starting any other way.
“I think this is a good team, I know this is a good team and we have the versatility to do it (get to the playoffs),” he said. “What I loved about Paul was his work ethic. He gets his work in after practice, before practice, and you guys don’t always see that. What I learned from him is you have to set the example.”