For the first time in five years, the Indiana Pacers have found themselves on the outside of the NBA Playoffs, looking enviously in.
After several successful years where they have done incredibly well during the regular season and made deep playoff runs, Indiana failed to make the post-season.
The Pacers ended up missing out by just one game, with the Brooklyn Nets grabbing the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference in the final week of the season, with Paul George's return from injury not enough to inspire Indiana to playoff basketball.
Article continues below
We'll Be Back
However, there is good news for Pacers fans that may have been feeling their superiority in the East was coming to an end.
GiveMeSport spoke exclusively to Indiana's Damjan Rudez and the small forward seemed sure that the team would be back at the top very quickly. In fact, Rudez would go as far as saying that the Pacers will be competing with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks next season.
"I would definitely say that we are as good as them (Cleveland and Atlanta)," Rudez told us. "We play great team basketball; we’re a very solid basketball team."
Rudez backed up his comments by noting how the Pacers were the number one seeds and reached the Conference Finals last year, while they have made the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons.
"The Pacers have played in the Conference Finals the past few years and now PG got hurt, so when he’s back I see no reason why we cannot be at the top of the East. We have a talented team; a great coach and I see no reason why we won’t reach the top," he went on to add.
The Pacers really missed the aforementioned Paul George, as any team would when they lose their best player, but they also had to contend without George Hill and David West, two other important players who missed significant spells off the court with injury.
If the Pacers can get everyone healthy then they have a real chance to compete at the top of the East. Some big free agency signings will be needed though if they seriously want to better than LeBron, Kyrie and Love in Cleveland.
Rudez spoke to us from Gran Canaria, where he was part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders initiative, serving as NBA ambassadors to European youth in what was the 15th year of Basketball Without Borders.
Some of the league's premier players attended the BWB camp when they were kids, including Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol, Marco Belinelli and Nikola Mirotic.