Can these old-school Pacers finally take down the new-school Heat?
In: Gerald Green, D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi, Sam Young, Sundiata Gaines, Blake Ahearn…rookies Miles Plumlee, Orlando Johnson
Out: Darren Collison (DAL), Leandro Barbosa, A.J. Price (WAS), Dahntay Jones (DAL), Lou Amundson (MIN), Kyrylo Fesenko (CHI)
PG George Hill Lance Stephenson, D.J. Augustin, Sundiata Gaines, Blake Ahearn
SG Paul George Gerald Green, Orlando Johnson (r)
SF Danny Granger Sam Young
PF David West Tyler Hansbrough, Miles Plumlee (r), Jeff Pendergraph
C Roy Hibbert Ian Mahinmi
Offseason Recap: From a historical perspective, this summer was a landslide victory for the Pacers as Reggie Miller and Mel Daniels headlined the HOF inductees. But if you’re the type who stays in the moment, Indiana hardly had a great summer. They were forced to pay restricted free agent Roy Hibbert a maximum-level contract courtesy of the insane accounting of the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s not that Roy didn’t deserve this paycheck nor that he may stop working hard as a result of it…far from the case. It’s just that, with Paul George set to become a free agent next year, it really tied management’s hands this summer. As a result, the Pacers had to fill out their bench with leftover scraps rather than top of line parts. The team helped Dallas get better by giving them Darren Collison, a guy who was too good to be a back-up (didn’t the same thing happen in NOLA?). Then, they added D.J. Augustin to take his place, a former draft pick that Charlotte had given up on…..nice. If Lance Stephenson doesn’t finally emerge as a consistent PG, this position took a major hit. Gerald Green, Sam Young, and Ian Mahinmi are all guys who weren’t even consistent rotation players last season…how can coach Frank Vogel expect them to help his team make a run into May or June? Then, in the draft, PF Miles Plumlee appears to be the second coming of Josh McRoberts…a freakishly athletic white guy. But why then did they let the original ‘McBob’ go in the first place? Rookie guard Orlando Johnson better bring it in training camp…..and that goes for Green & Stephenson too.
Strengths: The length this team has on the perimeter with Hill, George, and Granger is impressive. It’s also a big reason for the team’s success last year. Vogel made all the right calls deciding to start Paul George at SG in training camp and then chased that by picking George Hill tp start over Collison in the playoffs. He was right on both counts. Another huge plus for this team is the presence of a 7’3″ bona fide All-Star center, something no one else has on the planet. Granger and his ability to score 20-30 points any given night while staying in the context of the offense is also big asset. Lastly, the playoff experience from the past two seasons (especially last year) makes this group tough to beat.
Weaknesses: Depth. After emptying their pockets to keep Hibbert the Pacers were forced to fill-in the rest of their roster via the cheap route. A major injury or two in their starting lineup this season and they may even struggle to finish in the top 4. Indiana is hoping that Gerald Green and Lance Stephenson finally grow into men and perform like professionals. Another weakness, in my eyes, is the duplicity between Granger and George. In the end, I fear one must go…for financial as well as basketball reasons.
Prediction: For Paul George to shine and become the star player everyone thinks he will be, Danny Granger (his contract and his head-lock on the starting SF spot) will have to go. Paul’s natural position is the 3 and until he plays it full-time his potential won’t be realized. That being said, this decision probably will be delayed till next summer because the depth of the Pacer roster took a major hit the past few months and Frank Vogel needs as much talent as he can muster out there. However, expect Danny’s name to be bounced around in trade rumors heading up to the February deadline.
Vogel will likely go with a short rotation this season as his bench isn’t nearly as good. This will put pressure on the starters and may even lead to injuries. Frank will try to navigate this slippery slope all season, and earn every penny of his mediocre contract. Come playoff time, don’t be surprised to see just a 6 or 7 man rotation in Indiana. It’ll make Mike D’Antoni proud…..and Erik Spoelstra happy.
As for the team’s success, the sky is the limit for this core. Roy Hibbert will again be an All-Star center and may even start ahead of Andrew Bynum if the Midwest fans hit the ballots hard. David West will be in a contract year and I expect him to be both healthy and in great shape. Last year he had more of an effect in the locker room than on the court. This season, he’ll definitely get more looks on offense in this shorter rotation. Granger will still be the team’s fiery leader during games and willingly get into any altercation that comes his way (look out Larry Sanders). In the backcourt, Hill and George are awesome. I do think, though, that the depth of this group will hurt them in the meat of the schedule and cost them in the standings. But, considering Chicago also took a hit to their depth, this could be a war of attrition. I am picking the Pacers to win the Central Division.
Indiana has a distinctively old school vibe to them, between the make-up of their lineup to the way they keep it chippy out there in big games. It makes a historian of the game, like myself, proud. I think that this group will take the next step (despite my luv for the improved Philly roster) and advance to the conference finals. They’ll avoid the Heat in the 2ns round and take down either the 76ers or Bulls. The, it’ll be an epic series with Miami, re-newing the bad blood and cheap shots from last season’s matchup in the playoffs. They’ll make Reggie Miller proud.