Coming off of an NBA title, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, and it has been assumed that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and company will walk their way right back to the NBA Finals. However, the East has become very interesting. The Boston Celtics signed All-Star big man Al Horford, the Atlanta Hawks replaced Horford with Dwight Howard, the New York Knicks brought in Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, and the Chicago Bulls signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade. However, no team in the conference has had a better off-season than the Indiana Pacers, who now pose the biggest Eastern Conference threat to the Cavs.
Indiana Pacers Pose Biggest Eastern Conference Threat to Cleveland
The League’s Most Underrated Point Guard
The Pacers got busy on the phones shortly after the NBA Finals, making two very under-the-radar trades. They made a three team deal with the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz to acquire point guard Jeff Teague. Teague is one of the most explosive point guards in the NBA and is a former All-Star. He also comes in on only an $8 million salary for one year, so if it doesn’t work out with him in Indiana, the Pacers can part ways with him after this season. However, that shouldn’t be the case, as Teague has a lot to play for. He is in a contract year, in which he needs to play well to prove that last year was just an off year. That would allow him to position himself for a big-time contract that he feels he deserves, and he may have found just the team with which to do that. The Pacers have been in need of a scoring point guard for a long time, and while George Hill is a great defender, he just wasn’t the scoring option they need; Teague is.
The Perfect Complement to Paul George
The other trade that the Pacers made was with the Brooklyn Nets. The Pacers traded away the 20th pick in the draft and a future second round pick for forward Thaddeus Young, which was a complete steal. Young is a two-way player and a good scorer who can play in the post, step out on the perimeter, and defend at a high level. He seems like the ideal forward to play alongside Paul George. A front-line of George, Young, and Myles Turner is a formidable trio, but it’s possible that Turner could be a reserve, partly due to a move that the Pacers made in free agency.
Big Al, Big Steal
In free agency, the Pacers didn’t exactly steal the show, but they may have stolen a very good big man. They inked Hornets center Al Jefferson to a three-year, $30 million deal. Jefferson had an off year last year, mostly due to injuries and off-court issues, but also because of inconsistent minutes. When he’s himself, Jefferson is a dominant low post player who crashes the boards. He has been very consistent and dominant throughout his career, and when on top of his game, Jefferson is arguably a top ten center in the league. At this price, Jefferson could prove to be the best bargain signing of the 2016 free agent big men class.
Bang for the Buck
The Indiana Pacers have transformed themselves into an Eastern Conference contender and an imminent threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They have one of the most balanced and talented starting fives in the NBA. Teague and Monta Ellis can both score the ball and are on very team-friendly deals. Also, when you compare the contract of Teague to the deal that Mike Conley got, which is worth roughly $30 million per year, you realize what a steal Teague is, and in reality, Teague is just as good as Conley. Thaddeus Young is a player who can fit in on any team. He’s a good all around player, and he’ll compliment Paul George very nicely. Al Jefferson may start or back up Myles Turner, but either way, he’ll provide a presence that the Pacers haven’t had since Roy Hibbert hit his stride three years ago.
How the Pacers Match Up Against Cleveland
Now how does this team match-up against the Cavs? Teague plays a game very similar to that of Kyrie Irving, and Monta Ellis poses a much bigger threat than J.R. Smith (assuming he eventually re-signs with he Cavs) on the wing. LeBron James is the most unguardable player of the decade, but Paul George is a superstar and is arguably the second best player in the conference. He is a great defender, and if you had to pick one player to guard James, George is definitely in the conversation. Down low, the Pacers may have the advantage on Cleveland. They have the height advantage and have more of a post presence as a team. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson fortes aren’t in the post, but Jefferson and Young play inside, which could pose a problem to the Cavs; the Pacers match-up very nicely versus Cleveland. With all that said, the Indiana Pacers are the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.