INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Pritchard made his offseason desire clear: The Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations wanted someone to emerge as a locker room leader and he wasn't sure whether that player was on the roster at the end of last season.
By the time training camp opened, Pritchard thought he had found an answer in Malcolm Brogdon.
“Over the summer, I think one started to emerge," he said. “We had a few players get together a couple of times this summer and one player kind of organized that. That was Malcolm. We don’t have that, we call it an alpha guy, out there, whose pounding the table on anything but I think we’ll have a bunch of guys step up and it will be more team leadership, community leadership."
New coach Rick Carlisle believes Brogdon is a natural in the leading role.
Brogdon's great grandfather was a pastor and civil rights advocate. His grandfather marched with Martin Luther King Jr.. His father, Mitchell, is a lawyer and mediator, and his mother, Jann Adams, is an associate vice president at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Brogdon's resume includes a master's degree in public policy and leadership from the University of Virginia and a charitable foundation that promotes education and clean water in Africa.
It just took some time for Brogdon to find his opening on the court. He wasn't a regular starter In Milwaukee until his third season, and when he arrived in Indiana, two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo was the Pacers' voice.
When Oladipo was traded away in January, the Pacers suddenly had a leadership void — one Pritchard believed went unfilled in part because COVID-19 restrictions prevented players from getting together in large gatherings.
All that changed almost as soon as Pritchard uttered those words in his season-ending news conference and Brogdon wasted no time jumping in.
“I’m trying to take a more hands-on approach,” he said. “That’s something we need to continue to build on, being together, just spending quality time together. I think that’s the way you build trust. Like I told the guys when we were in Los Angeles, there are select teams that do that type of team-building and those are the teams that have the most success."
The Pacers slid from third in points allowed per game to 25th last season, at 115.3 points. That's not acceptable to Carlisle, who already has made it clear he expects Indiana to be a much better defensive team.
“It’s all about commitment,” Brogdon said. “The best defenders in the world aren’t the best athletes. They’re not the guys who move the fastest or jump the highest. They’re the guys who are the toughest, the guys that put in the effort, the guys that are really tenacious and relentless. That’s what we have to be this year.”
Center Myles Turner and two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis are back again this season and they're already hearing the same, old question — can they play together? Carlisle insists they can while Turner and Sabonis insist they enjoy teaming up.
“We look for each other and I definitely know he's got my back defensively," Sabonis said.
Injuries have prevented the Pacers from reaching their full potential in recent years and they may already be starting to take a toll this season.
T.J. Warren, Indiana's top scorer in 2019-20, is out indefinitely as he continues to recover from left foot surgery and forward Caris LeVert was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back.
Indiana hopes LeVert can play in the Oct. 20 season opener at Charlotte and Warren returns in weeks.
Indiana will be challenged right out of the gate, too.
There's a four-game West Coast swing in early November with stops at Portland, Denver and Utah, followed by a home game against the 76ers and a three-game road trip against the East. The Pacers also face the Lakers and Milwaukee in Thanksgiving week. They visit Milwaukee on Dec. 15 — their third matchup against the defending champs in 66 days. The opener is Oct. 20 at Charlotte.