It’s a gloomy locked out offseason in the NBA, but there is still much to talk about and lots of questions to be answered. Hoop Diary are exploring each NBA team in detail and discussing the future of the franchises. Today we delve into the immediate future of the Indiana Pacers. Read on to see if you agree with the thoughts of Hoop Diary’s Ryan Baker, and add your comments at the end.
The Pacers had an up and down 2010/11 season which ended with them scraping into the Playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. They do have a solid fan base, a great cap situation and real roster flexibility which should project well for them in the coming seasons should they figure out how to use it effectively.
The biggest news of the week other than poor Yao Ming’s retirement is the Pacers getting exactly what they needed with two great hires. First up, hiring home grown front office superstar Kevin Pritchard will bode well as Indy look to capitalise on the nice young pieces they have on their roster and build a cohesive unit which can compete. This acquisition ties in nicely with the earlier news that Indiana had extended player favourite Frank Vogel to Coach the team. Vogel lead the team on a surprising run and had the young roster showing genuine improvement after Jim O’Brien was fired.
Larry Bird is still at the top of the totem pole calling the shots, and he’s done a solid job in his time at the helm. There hasn’t been a lot of success in recent years, but at one time the Pacers had the best roster in all of Basketball until someone lobbed a beer at Ron Artest and the Pacers championship dreams folded like a house of cards. Following the inevitable breakup of that team where they were forced to sell players for 50c on the dollar, it’s been a hard road back but Pacers fans should feel real hope that their front office can work their way out of this mess.
Cap discussions are almost tongue in cheek during a labour strike and renegotiation, but Indiana are better placed than most to capitalise regardless of changes in the CBA and cap structure. The Pacers have many cap friendly deals and the only contracts which could have been termed bad at one point are now to the point of expiring and have become very trade friendly to teams looking to shed salary.
Given this, they will have to make several decisions shortly about which players to extend and build around, and which players to ship out for pieces which fit the overall puzzle. In this respect it’s a great sign that they resigned Frank Vogel and he can work with the front office to build towards an overall team plan.
Indiana is over seven million under the cap right now, although their draft picks are still unsigned so this will count towards this figure as well.
Unlike yesterday when we looked at Minnesota, the Pacers have talented wing players in Danny Granger, George Hill, Darren Collison, Paul George and even Brandon Rush. They also have some solid big man options in promising centre Roy Hibbert and energetic Tar Heel forward Tyler Hansbrough. What they lack is a superstar or game changer who can put his mark on the game, much like the 76ers with Andre Iguodala, Granger is a nice piece and a fantastic complimentary guy but until they find that impact player and let Granger step into his second banana role, they will continue to flounder.
There aren’t a lot of players who are better overall than Granger in the league, so that’s a positive. The difficulty is finding the right alpha-dog who can come in and provide the punch they require. John Smith from Atlanta is that guy, and he’s available, but Indiana is pretty gun-shy about taking headcases, and there is no guarantee Smith will figure it out. It’s likely that sooner rather than later he will go through the Zach Randolph transformation and be an impact player, but it probably won’t be for poor tortured Atlanta.
The difficulty for the Pacers is they aren’t bad enough to earn a high lottery pick who can be that player, and they don’t have enough pieces to trade for that player without gutting their team. Finding someone who can impact the offensive end might be an interesting option, like Monta Ellis or even better, Kevin Martin.
It’s a bright and sunny future in Indiana, with a healthy, young and talented roster, flexibility in both the roster and their cap situation and a dependable front office. That said, a lot of the 30 teams could say positive things about their situation, but the vast majority are going to fail to turn that situation into success. It would be fantastic to see a hoops town and small market NBA city like Indiana find success, but the next several months will be telling as they need to capitalise on their strong position quickly by having a plan and working towards it. It’s hard not to have faith in Larry Bird, David Morway and Kevin Pritchard.
Tune in tomorrow as we take a look at another team and assess their fortunes in the coming seasons.