A Season of Transition
The success of the Indiana Pacers surprised many this year, but Al Jefferson wasn’t among them.
In what was supposed to be a transitional year for the franchise, Indiana surged, winning 48 games, their highest total in the last four years, to obtain the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
“You had guys like Vic [Oladipo] and [Domantas] Sabonis, who had been traded and they were hungry, ready to prove themselves,” Al said. “It was just a great group of guys to come together that wanted to win and wanted to prove everybody wrong, and that’s what we did.”
In the postseason, the Pacers drew the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Although Indiana ultimately came up short, they can take some solace in the fact that Cleveland repeated as Eastern Conference Champs, and the Pacers were the only team to push them to the brink by beating the Cavs on their home court.
None of that came as much of a surprise to Big Al, who knew going into the year that, even without star Paul George, the Pacers had what it took to compete with the best in the East.
“I just knew, looking at the coaching staff and looking at the guys we had on this team, I knew that if we bought into [Coach Nate McMillan]’s system and did the things that Nate wanted us to do on the court, we were going to have a chance to win.”
And it wasn’t just a transitional season for the Pacers, it was one for Big Al as well. No. 25 assumed a different role this season with Indiana, acting as more of a veteran leader and mentor for younger players like Oladipo, Sabonis and Myles Turner. It was a role he embraced.
“It meant a lot. I didn’t realize how big an impact it would be, just being a good guy, being a good veteran, being there for the young guys,” Al said.
In his exit interview, he discussed that role, along with how he stayed prepared for when the team needed him to step up, what made the Pacers so special this season, and how he plans to improve this offseason, and Al believes the best is yet to come for the young Pacers.
“We got a lot to prove. This playoff series that we lost, it was good [for us],” he said. “We learned from it. That experience, we didn’t have that this time last year. Now that these guys have went through those growing pains, I feel like this is going to be the beginning of something special.”