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INDIANAPOLIS – Pacers’ fans are rejoicing on Sunday night, and the reason has nothing to do with a specific free agent signing by the team.
No, the celebration surrounds the biggest thorn in the side of the Pacers for the last decade now heading to the Western Conference.
LeBron James has agreed to a 4-year, $154 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.
For the first time in his 15-year NBA career, LeBron will not be in the same conference as the Pacers. Of those 15 seasons, 11 of them had James in the same Central Division as the Pacers.
Now, Indiana will only see The King twice a season. Any playoff encounter with the best player in the world won’t come until the NBA Finals.
Seeing LeBron move to the Western Conference should bring a huge sigh of relief to fans of the Pacers.
In the last 7 years, a LeBron-led team has knocked the Pacers out of the playoffs 5 separate times.
Pacers team president Kevin Pritchard even mentioned earlier in the year that where LeBron ended up this summer would definitely impact how the Pacers went about building their roster.
With LeBron now out of the Pacers’ conference, the need isn’t as pressing to find an elite on-ball wing defender (something the Pacers do lack).
Looking ahead to the East next year, sans LeBron, Boston has to be viewed as the frontrunner.
Philadelphia’s young duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will have the 76ers in the mix for one of the top seeds in the East.
Behind those two, the Pacers should be right there competing for a top 3-4 seed in the East.
Other teams like Toronto, Milwaukee and Washington also have playoff-caliber talent on their respective rosters.
Without a doubt, this move severely weakens the East, but offers a great chance for a team like the Pacers to make a deep playoff run in the years to come.
Indiana should be viewed as the favorite in the Central Division heading next year.
In joining the Lakers, LeBron did turn down more money had he stayed in Cleveland. The Lakers have not made the playoffs in 5 straight seasons. James’ run of 8 consecutive trips to the NBA Finals will be tested majorly in LA.
The Lakers have a young makeup with some intriguing talents. However, their current roster construction is going to need some tweaks, as they were one of the worst shooting teams in the league last year.
The appeal of LA was always there for LeBron, 33, as he already has a home in that area and still could attract a player like Kawhi Leonard, via trade.
After LeBron and the Cavs had a season defined by dysfunction this past year, it was hard to imagine him staying in his home town.
A loss for the Cavs is certainly a win for the Pacers as they try and expedite this rather quick rebuilding process from one year ago.