The Pacers' burning questions

Roy Hibbert

The Indiana Pacers had the Eastern Conference's best record during the regular season and are in the conference finals, which most had projected would happen. They're currently losing the series 3-1 to the Miami Heat, a team that generally everyone believes is more talented.

So despite this reasonable achievement, why is Indiana regarded as a team in turmoil?

Because the Pacers had one of the strangest, yet most compelling, seasons of any team in recent memory. They exploded to a 33-7 start, then finished 23-19 after a series of on- and off-court events that captivated NBA fans and raised many questions.

Here are some answers about what happened to the Pacers:


Q: Roy Hibbert's line about a lot of selfish people in that locker room brought the team's turmoil to the forefront. What's that about?

A: Hibbert didn't come out and identify the player directly to NBA.com's David Aldridge, but he was talking about Lance Stephenson on March 28 after a loss in Washington, when he said "there's some selfish dudes" in the locker room.

Stephenson was putting together a strong season for the Pacers, racking up triple-doubles and maturing into their second-best talent behind Paul George. But Stephenson felt jilted when the Eastern Conference coaches did not vote him onto the All-Star team in February. He doesn't always appreciate the ramifications of his actions; his recent attempt to "get inside LeBron James' head" with trash talk during the conference finals is a classic example.

After Stephenson missed out on the All-Star team, he changed. He started a bit of a personal vendetta against East coaches, wanting to personally send a message in those games, which took him further out of the flow on some nights, sources said. Overall, the team noticed a shift in Stephenson from a more team-oriented approach to a more self-oriented focus, where he started obsessing about his statistics. People within the team believed his upcoming free agency was also a motivating factor for Stephenson, who wanted to enhance his value, something he believed suffered when he didn't get an All-Star nod.

As a result, Stephenson started annoying his teammates at both ends. Not only did he start dominating the ball more -- his assist rate dropped dramatically in the second half of the season -- but he was robbing numbers from his teammates. He has always had a habit of so-called "stealing rebounds," jumping in front of or over a teammate who had an uncontested rebound to get it for himself. This phenomenon reached a new level in the back half of the regular season. Hibbert, who had his rebound totals heavily analyzed by the media and fans, was often a victim in these friendly-fire rebounds.

Stephenson's act had long worn thin by late March. When the players had meetings to address issues with the sudden struggles, Stephenson sometimes wasn't involved. Occasionally he appeared to be unaware they were even happening. Most players on the team, now that they were losing, shared similar feelings about Stephenson, but did not vocalize their problems publicly.

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