The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard.
The Suns have Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
The Celtics have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
And the Nuggets — who also happen to be the defending champs — have Nikola Jokić, who won back-to-back MVPs in 2021 and 2022.
The Pacers have Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner? Yeah, that’s not going to cut it.
Here’s the reality: If you want to raise the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, then you need a megastar — or two — on your team. You need someone who’s must-watch sports television. And, while Haliburton and Turner are two very good players, they are not players the average NBA fan is dying to see.
Those four teams I mentioned at the top of this column? All of them have someone on their roster who has a signature shoe with Nike or Jordan (owned by Nike). All of them have a megastar.
The last time the Pacers made the Eastern Conference Finals — back in 2013 and 2014 — they had a young kid from Fresno State who would later sign with the Swoosh. He wore the number 24.
“We are seeing a superstar in the making here with Paul George,” one TNT analyst said during the 2013 playoffs.
This was announced after George beat James — then of the Miami Heat — off the dribble and drove down the lane to give former NBA player Chris “Birdman” Andersen and every one of his tattoos a facial. Look up the slam on YouTube.
That was prime James, too.
Are any current Pacers players capable of driving past King James and finishing at the rim with a monster throwdown?
I don’t think so.
And that TNT analyst who called George a “superstar” back during those 2013 Eastern Conference Finals?
It was Reggie Miller, the man responsible for taking Indiana to its lone NBA Finals in 2000. Unfortunately, the Pacers lost to the Lakers in six games. Los Angeles was led by Hall-of-Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. O’Neal was named Finals MVP, averaging an absurd 38 points and 17 rebounds.
One superstar is fun, two is better, but none is no good.
So how do the Pacers fix this problem? I don’t know.
George and Miller were both first-round draft picks by Indiana. Miller wasn’t even the player Pacers fans wanted back in 1987. They wanted Indiana’s Steve Alford, who averaged less than five points per game during a pro career that spanned just four seasons.
The draft is one way the Pacers can acquire star power. This year’s No. 1 pick – Victor Wembanyama – certainly looks like megastar material. But the key words in that last sentence are “No. 1 pick,” and Indiana is one of six NBA teams that has never had the pleasure of picking first.
Even the first pick isn’t a guarantee. Remember Greg Oden and Anthony Bennett?
Another problem: In today’s NBA, the superstars are choosing where they want to play. Don’t like where you are? Force yourself out. Demand a trade.
I’m willing to bet that the league’s top talent isn’t looking at Indianapolis with hungry eyes. The entire city is about to be freezing, with residents scraping ice off their windshields and huddling by fireplaces as temperatures plummet.
That image isn’t attractive to a superstar looking to swap teams.
And superstars are exactly what the Pacers lack.