The Indiana Pacers’ odds of winning their first National Basketball Association title plunged after they lost Paul George to a compound leg fracture.
The Pacers were among the favorites to challenge LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title this season. That was before George, Indiana’s leading scorer the past two years, tried to block a layup during a Team USA scrimmage three days ago in Las Vegas and broke his right leg in multiple places when he landed on a basket support.
The Pacers’ odds of winning the NBA title dropped to 60-1 from 15-1, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook. Before George’s injury, only five teams had a better chance at winning the championship. After he underwent surgery that may sideline him for the 2014-15 NBA season, more than half the 30 teams in the NBA have better odds to win the title.
“This is an extremely unfortunate injury that occurred on a highly visible stage, but could also have occurred anytime, anywhere,” Larry Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, said in a prepared statement.
Bird said the team will continue to support USA Basketball and the league’s attempts to promote the game internationally.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN.com the league’s participation in international competitions will be a topic of discussion at the board of governors’ meeting in October. While Silver said the NBA will continue to evaluate the pros and cons of playing in the Olympics or the FIBA Basketball World Cup, he doesn’t anticipate a major shift from current participation.
“Injuries can happen any place at any time,” Silver was quoted as saying by ESPN.com. “The experiences our players have enjoyed by participating in their national teams, however, are ones that are unique and special in almost every other way.”
George, a 24-year-old forward who has averaged 15.3 points and 6.1 rebounds a game over his first four NBA seasons, was preparing to play for the U.S. team at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain from Aug. 30 through Sept. 14. A story posted to USA Basketball’s website the day of the injury detailed how George was becoming a major factor for the U.S. team.
“I’ll be OK and be back better than ever!!!” George said on his Twitter feed after the injury. He’s set to make about $13.7 million this season in the first year of a $92 million contract extension with the Pacers.
The Cavaliers’ odds of winning the championship moved to 3-1 from 7-2 after George’s injury. With the perception of less competition in the Eastern Conference, they’re now the favorite to win the championship, according to the LVH SuperBook. The Pacers went from third favorite in the East behind Cleveland and the Chicago Bulls to tied for ninth out of 15 teams.
“There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back,” said Bird, who was a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning “Dream Team” at the 1992 Olympics. “We still support USA Basketball and believe in the NBA’s goals of exposing our game, our teams and players worldwide.”
NBA games can be seen in 215 countries and territories, up from fewer than 10 in 1984, and the league continues to seek to grow its popularity internationally. USA Basketball’s men’s team, headed by Chairman Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski, has won the past two Olympic gold medals and is the defending champion at the FIBA World Cup.
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said basketball is a 12-month-a-year sport and that all players participate in summer leagues and pick-up games. Fraschilla added that NBA stars such as James and Kevin Durant talk among themselves about international competition and how they benefit from the experience.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Fraschilla said. “They get better playing against this type of competition in the summertime. Each player, their agent and club has to determine each situation differently, but you’re not going to stop players from playing summer basketball. By and large USA Basketball, since Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have taken over, has been good for the game.”