Patient Pacers Pritchard works from home


Except for dribbling in privacy, one of the few things NBA executives have been able to do for their teams recently is scout from afar.

They watch film, research numbers and listen to a roundtable of scouts via phone or Skype or something else electronic.

Indiana Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard mostly has been exercising his thinking muscles. The regular season was halted in mid-March due to the spread of COVID-19, and there is no date certain when it will resume or if the 2019-20 playoffs will occur.

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The league did take baby steps forward earlier this week, though, by announcing players can begin engaging in workouts at training facilities starting May 8, but only as individuals, not in groups.

Meanwhile, the annual league draft is scheduled for June 25, and it may well play out much like the NFL Draft just did with Commissioner Adam Silver embedded in one location and team officials scattered around their home cities around the country.

As for the young players sought and divvied up, they also are likely to be sheltered at home as draft selections are made. The Pacers engaged in Zoom interviews with prospective players, taking the place of the usual face-to-face meetings.

“I can’t believe there will be a draft more reviewed than this one,” Pritchard said.

This is one of the strangest periods in American and world history, the coronavirus causing shutdowns of small businesses, major corporations and sports that would attract spectators. People have been prisoners in their own homes, and “How about them Pacers?” is not their first thought in the morning.

“All of a sudden, it’s gone and you can’t have basketball,” Pritchard said. “You take basketball away from the people in Indiana, that’s a serious thing.”

The Pacers were hot when the NBA slammed the doors, winning eight of their previous 11 games. Star Victor Oladipo was rounding into top form following recovery from a knee injury.

Indiana was going to make the playoffs, but it was a question of seeding. The team was looking better on the court every game.

“I am happy for what our team has accomplished until today,” Pritchard said of the Pacers’ 39-26 record at the hiatus. “We were looking forward to that last stretch of the season.”

The Pacers have 17 regular-season games remaining. They are fifth in the Eastern Conference behind Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston and Miami.

“We think we can make some noise in the playoffs,” Pritchard said.

The Philadelphia 76ers lurk in the rear-view mirror. They have the same number of victories, but the Pacers have a tiebreaker.

When Pritchard participated in a conference call with reporters, he was seated in his kitchen.

During this time of international crisis, basketball was on his mind, but he wanted the Pacers to stand as an exemplar to the community, following social distancing guidelines and supporting frontline workers and offering support.

“We want to play our part,” Pritchard said. “Let’s beat this virus.”

No one has ever lived through such a thorough lockdown of daily routines on so many fronts with communal gatherings of even small groups of people forbidden, never mind the thousands and thousands who congregate at arenas and stadiums.

Sports, Pritchard said, “is the fabric of our country. It’s been a real shocker. I’m a big believer that sports brings us together in a unique way.”

Pritchard and other Pacers officials are checking in with players and engaging them via technology, providing pep talks and showing pride in their activities helping others.

As for basketball game resumption, the itch is there, but it is obvious it will follow a deliberate process.

“We’re really listening to the commissioner,” Pritchard said of Silver. “We’re all watching his lead. I trust my commissioner implicitly.”

Once a go-ahead is announced, Pritchard estimates players will need two to three weeks of practice.

“We’ve got to get them back where they can play at the highest level,” he said.

The Pacers’ recent jelling gives Pritchard optimism about what the team can accomplish in the playoffs.

“I think our players are in a great spot now,” Pritchard said. “(The team) with everybody healthy, we’re not afraid. I get a feeling they’re hungry. This team wants to believe they belong.”

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