20130429-135523.jpgThe fact Paul George wanted the entire starting lineup, not to mention coach Frank Vogel, included when ESPN made the interview request said enough.

But it didn’t say it all.

When the Pacers sat down for their interview with Stephen A. Smith, which aired Wednesday on SportsCenter, the most telling comments came from David West.

Responding to Smith’s question if this was a “championship or bust” season for the Pacers, here’s what West said:

“Yeah, I think so. For us, the one thing I don’t think anybody recognizes about us is all of us have a chip on our shoulder. Every game, we talk about where we were drafted, how we felt like at some point somebody in this league said ‘f-you’ to one of us, and that drives us. That’s the one thing that connects all of us, connects our locker room, the fact that we have guys that are driven to prove our worth. In terms of where we feel like we can go with this group, we’re fighting to be the top dog, the last man standing.”

It was an expansion of Paul George’s “built not bought” comments after the Pacers disposed of the Nets earlier this season, that these Pacers are both very proud of where they came from – and where they are – and very conscious of how they differ from their competition in the Eastern Conference.

The average draft position of the Pacers’ starting five is 22.2, the players having been selected between Nos. 10 (George) and 40 (Lance Stephenson). From the rest of the roster, the highest pick was Danny Granger (17); there are two second-round picks (Luis Scola and Orlando Johnson) and three undrafted free agents (Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan) on the bench.

Relative to other contenders, then, the Pacers come from the Island of Misfit Toys.

  • Miami has two former No. 1 overall picks (LeBron James and Greg Oden) and five other top-six picks (Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley and Shane battier) on its roster.
  • Chicago has a former No. 1 (Derrick Rose) and four other top-nine picks (Mike Dunleavy, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich).
  • The Nets have two top-fives (Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams and three other top 10s (Paul Pierce, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson)
  • The Knicks have two former No. 1s (Andrea Bargnani and Kenyon Martin), two top-threes (Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler) and a No. 9 (Amar’e Stoudemire).

All of which makes the job Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, Kevin Pritchard and Co. have done in rebuilding this roster that much more remarkable. You’re not supposed to be able to build a contender without tanking for at least a couple of years to snag a high draft pick.

As for the rest of the group interview, it largely consisted of the oft-repeated topics of team chemistry and togetherness and Vogel’s confidence-building approach.

Here are some of the nuggets:

>> George: “It’s a togetherness environment here. We all pull for one another when we’re on the floor, when we’re off the floor. I’ve never felt so a part of a team from coaching, our trainers, just a whole organization where everybody’s on the same page. So it’s a special feeling here.”

>> Vogel: “I think belief is a major element to winning at the highest level and I want our guys to believe that we’re at a point in our franchise where we should expect to win every single time we step on the court. Are we going to win all 82? No, we’re not going to win all 82 but every time we step on the basketball court we’ve got a group that should feel like they should expect to win that basketball game.”

>> West: “When I got here a couple of years ago, we were just talking about improving and making the playoffs and things like that but we feel like everybody’s made the jump and has improved, our bench has gotten better, and we can ultimately get to the top of the hill in terms of winning the championship.”

So as the talk in the NBA, at least toward the bottom of the standings, focuses on speculation about teams tanking to increase their lottery odds at prospects like Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Jabari Parker of Duke and Julius Randle of Kentucky, perhaps those GMs should examine the template created in Indiana.

There’s more than one way to build a contender, and the Pacers have done it right.

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