It’s no surprise that pundits across the country, in their 2013-2014 preseason predictions, picked a rematch of the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both teams have their core players returning, and other opponents in the Eastern Conference seem to be a step behind the Heat and Pacers.
Had Derrick Rose remained healthy, the Bulls also would have been in contention for the Eastern Conference Finals. But the Pacers and Heat have been the popular choices all season, and rightfully so.
Both teams play stingy defense, move the ball well on the offensive end, and have a superstar who can carry the load. They have other similarities in terms of style of play as well, but there is one major difference between the franchises: the way their rosters were configured.
“Built, not bought”— a phrase coined by Pacers fans during the conference finals last season—has carried over into this season. It’s a catchy phrase that Pacers fans like, but what does it really mean, especially in relation to the Heat?
The Miami Heat is a team that has been to three consecutive NBA Finals, dating back to the 2010-2011 season. How did it accomplish such a feat? Simple—it has the most talented roster in the NBA.
In the summer before the 2010-2011 NBA season, the Heat signed Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh to contracts all worth more than $100 million.
After solidifying their core, Miami management turned to free agency to round out the team. They signed 10-time NBA all-star Ray Allen, two-time all-NBA defensive teamer Shane Battier, Chris Andersen (Birdman) and even Greg Oden, who was one of the most sought-after big men in the country at one time.
With the majority of their players being lured in as free agents, one could argue that the Heat “bought” their championship-contending team.
On the flip side, the Pacers have taken a different route to becoming a championship contender.
Their superstar, Paul George, was a little-known pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He struggled for a few seasons but has exploded onto the scene as one of the best wings in the NBA.
The Pacers’ other recent all-star, Roy Hibbert, was part of a draft-night trade with the Toronto Raptors in 2008 that sent Jermaine O’Neal and his $21 million contract to Toronto for Hibbert and some change. The Pacers got a future all-star center and unloaded O’Neal’s atrocious contract.
George Hill is another member of the Pacers’ core acquired on a draft night. Hill came from the San Antonio Spurs during the 2011 NBA Draft in exchange for the 15th overall pick, Kawhi Leonard—a trade that has worked well for both the Pacers and the Spurs.
Lance Stephenson is the most surprising player in the Pacers core group of guys. Stephenson was drafted to the Pacers in the same draft as Paul George, but was the 40th overall pick. In the absence of the injured Danny Granger, Stephenson, like George, has drastically raised his game.
The Pacers drafted Granger in 2005. Until last season, he was the perennial team leader. When you consider that guys like Joey Graham and Sean May were drafted ahead of Granger in 2005, you realize how important the Granger pick was.
In terms of their core guys, David West is the only player the Pacers have acquired in free agency, but even his situation was unique. West tore his ACL in March 2011, so it was a risk for any team to go after him that off-season. The Pacers took that risk, and it has paid off nicely for them.
After examining it closer, it is easy to see why the phrase “built, not bought” was adopted for the Pacers in their series with Miami last season, and why the phrase stuck. The Pacers truly are a team that has been built from the ground up.•
Tony Adragna is a communications specialist for Purgatory Golf Club and covers Indiana Athletics for Scout.com.