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The Indiana Pacers were already going to have a hard enough time making the playoffs in the 2021-22 season. That goal became even more mountainous with the latest update to forward T.J. Warren.

Warren missed nearly the entirety of the 2020-21 campaign with a foot injury. It initially appeared as though he would be ready for the start of the new season, but all indications are he could be sidelined when it tips off in October.

T.J. Warren emerged as a budding star for the Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers made the obvious choice to acquire T.J. Warren from the Phoenix Suns on draft night in 2019. It was obvious because, well, they also nabbed the No. 32 overall pick and only had to give up cash considerations.

Warren had already displayed strong scoring potential with the Suns, and he built on that reputation in Indiana. The former NC State star averaged a career-high 19.8 points in his first season with the Pacers, including a 61% true shooting mark and career-best +6 net rating.

The Durham native really thrived in the Orlando bubble, scoring 32 or more points in four of the final six games of the restart before the Pacers meekly bowed out in the first round of the playoffs.

The Pacers roster suddenly had a loaded frontcourt, with Warren joining Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner in forming a three-headed beast that could score and space the floor. Unfortunately, Indiana did not get to see much of an encore from its budding star.

Warren suffered a stress fracture in his left foot early in the 2020-21 season. He tried to work his way back into the rotation, but ultimately underwent surgery in March.

The Pacers likely hoped Warren’s return would count for something of an offseason addition to their roster after a fairly quiet summer. However, it remains to be seen when the 28-year-old will return to the floor.

Warren’s foot is not healing as planned

Undergoing surgery in March appeared to give Warren more than enough time to recover for the start of the 2021-22 season. Unfortunately for Pacers fans, that isn’t the case.

On Tuesday, the Pacers stated that, while Warren’s foot is healing, the process is not going “at the pace previously anticipated.” The team added that he would remain out “indefinitely” until further notice.

Warren wanted to give the fans a more personal update. He tweeted that he was trying to do the rehab process “right” so as to get fully healthy.

The personal update is probably necessary, considering some fans might wonder if Warren’s lack of progress had something to do with possible trade demands. There had been rumblings that Warren demanded a trade last season, though former Indianapolis Star beat writer and current Orlando Sentinel editor J. Michael reported those rumors were false.

In any case, the Pacers could be without Warren for an extended period. That’s bad news for Indiana as it hopes to get back to the playoffs.

The Pacers must scratch and claw for a playoff spot in a reloaded Eastern Conference

Pacers forward T.J. Warren drives to the rim during a game in December
The Pacers roster lacks much-needed firepower without T.J. Warren in the rotation | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Pacers had a hard enough time getting into the NBA play-in tournament last season, finishing as the No. 9 seed in the East. It will be even more challenging to earn a playoff spot this time around after multiple teams reloaded in the offseason.

The Chicago Bulls added Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to form an imposing rotation with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. In South Beach, the Miami Heat made a big splash in signing Kyle Lowry and will be hungry to reassert themselves as championship contenders. Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards might actually be better after revamping their roster in the Russell Westbrook trade and inking Spencer Dinwiddie.

A host of Eastern Conference teams added major pieces this summer. On the other hand, Indiana stood mostly pat aside from signing Torrey Craig and drafting Chris Duarte. It also traded away Aaron Holiday and lost Doug McDermott in free agency.

Perhaps the Pacers felt T.J. Warren’s return could help galvanize the roster, but i’s no longer clear when that return will happen.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.