The Indiana Pacers have been a bit of an inconsistent franchise when it comes to basketball in general really, going through periods of great regular season play but never being able to close the deal with a championship. Those periods are joined together by seasons where the Pacers are terrible on the court, resulting in lottery picks in the draft, but even they can’t get that right sometimes. Add onto that the mismanagement of star players, trading them away for much less than they were worth
Add onto that the mismanagement of star players, trading them away for much less than they were worth, and you have the mistakes committed below.
Back in 1978, the Pacers had just finished with a 31-51 record, resulting in them getting awarded the first overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft. They promptly traded down the draft, trading the first pick to Portland for Johnny Davis and the third pick. Not a bad move of course, but with the talent available in the draft, trading down two spots may not have been ideal.
Indiana selected Rick Robey with the third overall pick, a 6’11 center who averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds over his career, and only played one year for the Pacers.
3 picks later, Indiana State legend Larry Bird was selected by the Boston Celtics. It could have been a match made in heaven. Just like LeBron, the home-grown talent drafted to his hometown team, but the Pacers decided against this, and boy did it hurt them.
Bird went on to win 3 championships, 3 MVP awards and attend 12 All-Star games while playing in Boston, something Indiana could’ve used dearly.
To pile on the mistakes, the Pacers also traded away 2 of their best players both a year prior and 2 years after the 1978 Draft.
For some reason, Indiana actually got lucky for once, when the Buffalo Braves traded away the REIGNING Rookie of the Year Adrian Dantley to the Pacers before the 1977-78 NBA season. At the age of 21, Dantley averaged 26.5 points over 23 games for the Pacers, and for some reason, they decided to TRADE him to Los Angeles!
In a cruel domino effect, James Edwards, one of the players the Pacers received in return for Dantley, left in free agency in 1981. In an effort to not dip in the standings the following year, Indiana traded away their 1984 first-rounder to Portland for Tom Owens, a 10 PPG center. That pick? That pick materialized into the first overall pick, which could’ve been used to draft Michael Jordan.
Only 3 years after losing Dantley, Indiana traded a 25-year old Alex English to the Nuggets to bring McGinnis back to his hometown where he starred for the Pacers in their ABA days.
English, who averaged 15 and 7 for the Pacers before being traded, would go on to make eight straight All-Star appearances for Denver (1982-89), is considered Denver’s best player ever, and is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
So between the years of 1977-1984, the Pacers, either directly or indirectly, missed out on three, potentially four, Hall Of Famers on the same roster at the same time.
Imagine the likes of Bird, Dantley, English, and Jordan all playing for Indiana in the mid-80’s? Instead of the Lakers and Celtics meeting in the Finals four times, it could’ve very well been Los Angeles and Indiana playing for the Larry O’Brien trophy.