Indiana Pacers' Offseason: 10 Moves to Keep Indiana a Contender

Jonathan MatthesContributor IIIJune 6, 2012

Indiana Pacers' Offseason: 10 Moves to Keep Indiana a Contender

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    As soon as the NBA Finals come to a close later this month, the most important offseason for the Indiana Pacers in recent memory will officially begin.

    There are personnel questions abound for the Pacers.

    Do they keep Roy Hibbert? What do they do will George Hill and Leandro Barbosa? Will Larry Bird even be back next year? Wouldn't Deron Williams be perfect for the Pacers? Is Greg Oden even usable?

    We'll address those questions and many more.

    Here are 10 ways the Pacers can not only remain a contender in the East, but become a contender for the NBA title. 

The Pipedreams and Competition

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    Indiana will have a sizable amount of cap room. Some reports suggest that Indy is right up with Boston and Phoenix for the most. Both of those clubs have tough decisions to make about their immediate future though.

    Boston has nine free agents including Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Allen is more expendable, with the solid play of Avery Bradley, but what do they do with KG? Do you re-sign him and ride out his last few good years or do you try to get younger?

    Not to mention, which of the absurd amount for free agents does Danny Ainge keep?

    Mickael Pietrus? Marquis Daniels? Greg Stiemsma is a restricted free agent. What if someone goes all in for him?

    Tough questions. The KG question is similar to the one Phoenix is facing with Steve Nash. Get younger, or stay the course?

    Those quandaries will dictate whether the interests of Boston and Phoenix will conflict with Indiana or not. But in any event, the Pacers have an opportunity to be heavy players in the free-agent market.

    This could let Pacers fans dream of the studs of the 2012 class arriving in the Hoosier state. Guys like...

     

    Deron Williams

    I first saw his name described as basically the perfect acquisition for the Pacers this offseason.

    Maybe, he is one of the top-five best point guards in the NBA right now. He would be able to take the leadership role away from Danny Granger. He would be able to orchestrate the Pacers' offense in the half court and push the tempo on offense.

    He's a decent defender, a pretty good shooter and can create his own shot, which is a trait that has been lacking in the Fieldhouse for a long time.

    However, point guard is not the Pacers' biggest need, unless they don't re-sign George Hill. Also, Indiana did not appear on Williams' desired location list, which included the likes of Dallas and Brooklyn.

    The chances of him landing in Indiana is probably around slim and none.

     

    Steve Nash

    If the year was 2006, which it's not, then I would be screaming from the rooftops that Indiana should bring him into the fold. But for all that Nash does, he doesn't play defense and he's old (38). Those are two huge faults that Indy shouldn't bank on, at least not if they want to be contenders for a while.

    Nash's arrival would center on two things.

    How much does he have left in the tank? How many millions does he want? The answer to the last question is probably too much.

     

    Ray Allen

    He has sunk the most three-pointers in NBA history, but his treys haven't been dropping with as much frequency this postseason. He's also in the same boat as Nash: He's too old (36), has lost a step and will want more money than he should probably be given.

     

    Tim Duncan

    Simply not happening.

    By the way, has anyone else noticed how many free agents Brooklyn has this year? Eleven, if you include the guys with a player's option (Williams, Jordan Farmar and Gerald Wallace).

    Eleven!

    A basketball team can only have 12 players active at one time! And I thought Boston had a lot of free agents.

1. The Architect Must Stay

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    Dear Mel Simon,

    Do whatever it takes to keep Larry Bird.

    Let's review Bird's major decisions over the last four years.

     

    2012

    Acquires Leandro Barbosa from Toronto for a second-round pick. Barbosa becomes instrumental in the blisteringly hot finish to the season by the Pacers.

     

    2011

    Swaps Brandon Rush, a member of the overly-crowded Pacer backcourt, for Lou Amundson. Amundson plays heavy minutes after Jeff Foster retires, becoming an essential member of the solid interior defense that Indiana played.

    Trades Indiana's first-round pick (Kawhi Leonard) to San Antonio for George Hill. A trade that becomes maybe the most mutually beneficial trade in the last 20-some years.

    Leonard becomes one of the three best rookies of the 2011-12 season, playing heavy minutes for the Spurs and Hill revitalizes his hometown team. Indy reaches the Eastern semis and San Antonio reaches the Western finals.

    Signs David West, which only provides veteran leadership, toughness, a reliable scoring option and helps Roy Hibbert become an All Star. So nothing too exciting.

     

    2010

    Exchanges Troy Murphy for Darren Collison and James Posey. Murphy was consistent at getting you 10 and 10 almost every game, also known as the minimum you have to achieve to get a double-double.

    On the other hand, Posey was a great influence in the locker room and Collison becomes the Pacers starting point guard, which is about a billion-percent improvement on T.J. Ford.

    Drafts Paul George, who was at the time a lanky wing-player from Fresno State. He becomes the starting 2-guard and arguably the most athletic Pacer ever.

    Replaces Jim O'Brien, the head coach of a bad team, with an unknown Frank Vogel, the head coach of an overachieving team that almost upsets Chicago in the first round.

     

    2009

    Signs Dahntay Jones, who becomes not only a veteran leader and tremendous teammate, but an excellent perimeter defender.

    Drafts Tyler Hansbrough, an underrated pick. He becomes a productive, high-energy player off of the bench. Then takes A.J. Price in the second round. A solid backup who ends up playing big minutes for Indiana over the next three years.

     

    In Summary

    Keep Larry Bird. He knows what he is doing.

    Sincerely,

    Jonathan

2-5. Keep Roy Hibbert

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    If Indiana does not re-sign Roy Hibbert they will set themselves back a decade.

    It's really that simple.

    He is the third best center in the NBA right now and he's getting better.

    Check out the stats (brought to you by ESPN):

    Year GP/GS PPG FG% FT% RPG BLKPG APG
    '08-'09 70/41  7.1 .471 .667  3.4 1.1   .7
    '09-'10 81/69 11.7 .495 .754  5.7 1.6 2.0
    '10-'11 81/80 12.7 .461 .745  7.5 1.8 2.0
    '11-'12 65/65 12.8 .497 .711  8.8 2.0 1.7
    '12 Playoffs 11/11 11.7 .500 .667 11.2 3.1 1.1

    Here's some things we can take from this.

    A. Hibbert is incredibly durable. He has played, including playoffs, in 95 percent of the possible games in his career and started in 87 percent of them.

    B. He's really good at setting his teammates up, at least for a big fella.

    C. Each season he improves in almost every significant category. Especially in rebounds. He becomes more assertive every year, more so in the playoffs.

    He was the most important player on the court during the Eastern semifinals not named LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. He made anyone who attacked the basket have to alter their shot just because he was there.

    Even better, most of Hibbert's blocks stayed inbounds, which could lead to Pacer fast breaks, as opposed to Dwight Howard's blocks that sail into the fourth row and end right back in the hands of his opposition on their end of the court.

    He runs the floor well. He's great in the locker room and in the community. He's 7'2" and he's only 25 years old.

    The future is glaringly bright for him, which means he's going to be a hot commodity this offseason. Boston, Brooklyn, Dallas and Houston (if not more) could make runs at him. The Pacers must fend them all off.

    Having a quality center like Chris Kaman and projects like Greg Stiemsma, Omer Asik, JaVale McGee and Ersan Ilyasova on the market could help temper interest. As will the possibility of landing Howard. But Hibbert will still command a hefty price tag.

    Best case scenario is he could cost Indiana five years and $60 million. But it will probably be more than that.

    Part of the concern of Bird not returning is if Simon will let him spend as much as is necessary to keep the team progressing. In this case they must spend as much as necessary to keep Hibbert. He is the most important Pacer (concerning the near-future) currently on the roster.

    It took Indiana four years to develop him into an All-Star, if they let him walk, those four years are not only down the drain but can not be easily refilled. The Eyebrow (Anthony Davis) isn't falling down to pick 26.

    Hey, he could take a deal way lower than market value. That would be cool, but in any event, the Pacers must keep Hibbert.

6. Re-sign George Hill

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    George Hill is everything you could want in a teammate. Humble, talented and (for Indiana fans) a local kid.

    He led a potent Pacers attack from the end of the season through their playoff run. The George-squared backcourt was Indiana's most efficient last season, especially when paired with Danny Granger, West and Hibbert.

    He wasn't even the starter for most of the season.

    Hill is a combo-guard who can play solid offense and defense and doesn't mind coming off the bench or starting.

    The additions of him and West were the biggest reasons for the maturation of the young Pacers team.

    Hill is an immensely valuable part of the Pacers young core that could contend for years in the East. He's only 26 and wants to stay in Indiana. A five-year, $25-30 million deal could be more than enough to keep Hill.

    In summary, the Pacers should keep Hibbert and Hill. But there are more free agents that Indiana needs to make a decision on.

    The rest of the Pacers' free agents are A.J. Price (restricted), Lou Amundson, Kyrylo Fesenko and Leandro Barbosa.

    They should re-sign Amundson . He's not the permanent answer at the backup center position because his offensive game is not good enough. But his energy and defense will be important as a reserve.

    It would be great to keep Price, but he should be the backup point guard for a good team, not be buried on the bench. Any number of teams could use him. Indiana should also let Fesenko and Barbosa walk.

    So here is what we are looking at roster-wise after re-signing Amundson, Hibbert and Hill with their current ages in brackets:

    PG George Hill  (26) Darren Collison (24)  
    SG Paul George (22) Lance Stephenson (21)  
     C Roy Hibbert (25) Lou Amundson (29)
     
    SF Danny Granger (29)
    Dahntay Jones (31)  
    PF David West (31) Tyler Hansbrough (26) Jeff Pendegraph (25)

    What we have left is a pretty good roster with two major holes.

    The first is the Pacers need a guard who can create his own shot and get to the basket, preferably someone that can take the clutch role away from Granger.

    The second is a big off the bench who can hold down the fort when Hibbert needs to take a breather.

    There are three practical options available on the free-agent market who could fill these voids, and the Pacers have the cap space to pull it off.

7. Add Eric Gordon

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    Eric Gordon: the perfect player to fill the first need for the Pacers this offseason.

    Consider:

    A. He brings a full offensive arsenal to the table. He can shoot the three-ball (37 percent). He can average 20 points per game (21.5 over the last two years). He passes (3.3 APG), He is good from the charity stripe (81 percent) and is accurate from the field (45 percent).


    B. He can take the pressure of being the "man" off of Danny Granger's shoulders and isn't going to buckle under that pressure. Gordon isn't afraid of taking the big shots in the big moments.


    C. Gordon is explosive, attacks the basket when need be and is a furious finisher on fast breaks. He is also a good defender.


    D. He is only 23, and most wing players make their first big leap during their age 24 season, which will be this upcoming one.


    E. Re-read "D" again.

    Compare Gordon's stats with that of Wade and Kobe Bryant:

      PPG FG% FT% 3P%
    Gordon '08-'12 18.2 .452 .807 .370
    Kobe    '96-''00 16.4 .445 .818 .326
    Kobe    '08-'12 26.8 .451 .835 .327
    Wade   '03-'07 23.7 .482 .775 .257
    Wade   '08-'12 26.1 .491 .769 .298

    As you can see, Gordon's stats already are comparable to those of Bryant and Wade. He's already the better three-point shooter of the three. He's shoots a higher percentage from the floor than Kobe does, and is better from the line than Wade is.

    And he's only 23.

    The biggest complaint against him is that he is never healthy. True, he has only played in 66 percent of the possible games in his career. But Gordon has started 92 percent of the games that he has played. That shows that throughout his career he has been valuable enough to his teams that when he was healthy, he was starting.

    And it's not like Kobe and Wade played in every game in their careers either.

    Both Kobe (81 percent) and Wade (80 percent) missed about 20 percent of the possible games in the first four years of their career. And Kobe only started 45 percent of his team's possible games when he was healthy. Wade started 98 percent of his.

    The point is, Eric Gordon is really damn good. And he's only 23. I can't stress this enough, his entire prime is ahead of him.

    Is the injury risk worth it to offer a potentially max contract?

    In this case the Pacers should.

    He is already the third-best shooting guard in the league when healthy. He can create his own shot, which the Pacers haven't had a guy like that since...uh...maybe Jalen Rose in 2002. He has the potential to have Kobe/Wade-like upside, with a calm, quiet, yet fierce attitude.

    He would be perfect for the Pacers and the Pacers would be perfect for him.

    He's comfortable in Indianapolis (his hometown), and more importantly, the Pacers have the talent to protect him.

    Not only would Hibbert (low-post), West (high-post) and Granger (mid-range) open up scoring opportunities that Gordon has never had, but Indiana has the ability to limit his minutes with Paul George playing heavily off the bench. This cuts down on the chances for injury (more on that with point nine). And this creates potentially the best core of wing players (George-Gordon-Granger) in the league.

    He wouldn't have to score 25 a game for the Pacers to be contenders, but 18 points, that and being a great teammate will put Indy over the top.

    He would be perfect.

8. Plan B

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    Of course ,even if Gordon (a restricted free agent) signs an offer sheet from the Pacers, New Orleans could just match it and point seven goes the way of the dinosaurs.

    Gordon should be the primary target for the Pacers in filling their need at the wing position.

    But in case it doesn't work, Indiana must get a player who can create his own shot. They have gone too long without one (10 years, remember?).

    The next best and cheaper option is Memphis' O.J. Mayo.

    Mayo, much like George Hill, plays well both in the starter and reserve role. He averaged 12.6 PPG last year as a reserve for Memphis. Which is a big improvement on the 8.8 that Leandro Barbosa offered this past season. Also, Mayo is a much better defender than Barbosa has ever been.

    But most importantly Mayo is better at attacking the rim than just about any other wing player on the Pacers' roster.

    Keep in mind that Bird has already tried to acquire him about two times, even as recently as this past offseason. If Bird likes him, and judging by his recent track record (point one), that must mean that Mayo is probably pretty good.

    Mayo is a restricted free agent like Gordon. Which means any offer he gets, the Grizzles can match. If they keep Rudy Gay, then keeping Mayo will nudge them only closer to the dreaded luxury-tax land. Especially with their starter Tony Allen coming up for free agency next year.

    Ditch Gay and keep Mayo or keep Gay and lose Mayo, is the situation they are facing.

    Or they could just jettison both of them. Any of those options could happen. It does seem unlikely that they will match a good offer from the Pacers or Bulls.

    But if they do, the best available wing players (that aren't worth splurging upon) are Houston's Courtney Lee (restricted), Atlanta's Kirk Hinrich, Phoenix's Shannon Brown, Boston's Mickael Pietrus or Portland's Nicolas Batum (restricted).

9. Hear Me Out

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    As it's frequently said, there is no such thing as a bad one-year contract in the NBA.

    That's important to keep in mind over the next few paragraphs.

    The Pacers need a center who can: A) effectively fill in for Roy Hibbert when Hibbert needs a breather; B) isn't absolutely dreadful on the offensive end; C) is a treat on the defensive end.

    Lou Amundson gives you one of those things.

    Greg Oden gives you all three.

    Sure,  he hasn't played in two years, I understand that. Of course his legs might be made out of shattered glass, I get that too. And yes, he might even be one of the biggest busts in NBA history.

    But here is what Greg Oden is.

    • 24-years-old, 7'0" and 285 pounds.
    • A force in the middle on defense who causes players to alter their shots before he alters it for them.
    • Averaged 11.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, while shooting 61 percent (holy crap!) from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line (which is about 77 percent better than Dwyane Wade has been shooting from the foul line during the playoffs),
    • He wants to prove that he isn't a bust.

    The last point is the most important.

    Who wants to go down in history as another Portland center that flamed out spectacularly?

    Not Oden.

    He needs an opportunity to prove himself. The Pacers are the perfect place for him to do so.

    With Amundson, Hansbrough, Hibbert, Pendergraph and West already on the roster (hypothetically) the Pacers have the depth to allow them to limit Oden's minutes to help ensure, as much as possible, that he remains healthy.

    This allows Oden to show that he's not going to breakdown over the course of the season, and that he is worthy of more than a flier of a contract.

    It won't cost the Pacers much to sign him, one-year at $3.5 million, if that.

    Ideal situation: He averages 8.5 points and six rebounds with two blocks in the role of the second post player (after Hansbrough) off the bench. He plays the entire season and earns a bigger-money contract from another team, or a inexpensive deal with Indiana, after the season.

    Worst situation: He gets hurt again and his contract is off the books at the end of the season.

    That's not a bad downside. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad one-year contract.

    Other available, not-so-expensive post players: Atlanta's Jason Collins, Houston's Marcus Camby, Oklahoma City's Nazr Mohammed and Portland's Joel Przybilla.

10. The Draft and Trades

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    The 2012-13 Pacers might not be a team looking for an impactful rookie. Which is good because they are picking 26th. A spot that isn't exactly going to land you The Eyebrow.

    But the draft is deep, so somebody of value might trickle down to Indiana.

    So, I examined just about every mock draft I could find and some player bios on Sports Illustrated to get an idea on who might be the best fit for the Pacers.

    Through free agency the biggest holes should be filled. But all great teams, truly great teams, utilize the draft to build not just for the present but for the future. The Pacers have been building that way.

    This year will be one of those great moments where you don't have to draft according to a need, but just to take the best basketball player that 25 teams pass on. There are a few guys I like, or think should be strongly considered.

    These are in no particular order:

     

    Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt Sr., 6'11", 255 pounds

    Ezeli is tremendous at protecting the glass and blocking shots. He has pretty good size for a modern center. He's got a very raw offense game, but it could be beneficial for him to learn behind two All-Stars in Roy Hibbert and David West.

     

    Jeff Taylor, SF, Vanderbilt Sr., 6'7", 225 pounds

    Don't the Pacers have enough wing players?

    Yes, but they're building for the future. Dahntay Jones, Indy's second-best wing defender is not going to be there forever and Taylor is the best wing defender in the draft. His offensive game isn't too shabby either, but this a pick with future defense in mind. By the way, I'm not a fan of Vandy, these are just both quality players.

     

    Andrew Nicholson, PF, St. Bonaventure Sr., 6'9", 225 pounds

    While the Bonnies might not play the most competitive schedule, Nicholson absolutely killed in postseason play, averaging double figures in points and rebounds. The guy is tenacious inside. He drew comparisons to David West, which is a type of player the Pacers like very much.

     

    Evan Fournier, SG, France, 6'7", 200 pounds

    At the ripe old age of 19, this French guard loves to attack the lane and has a pretty decent offensive game. He's got size and quickness, but is still kind of a project, which isn't the worst thing ever. Indiana doesn't need him to be Reggie Miller this year.

     

    Draymond Green, F, Michigan State Sr., 6-7', 230"

    His measurables don't jump of the page. They say he doesn't have enough size to be a power forward or enough speed to be a 3. But Green is just a basketball player. He had over 2,000 career points and rebounds. Not too shabby for a tweener.

    I'd be fine with any of these young men or any on else that helps the Pacers contend.

    Don't be surprised if Indiana looks to make a trades, and if they do, it will probably work out for both sides.

     

    Projected Pacers Roster

    PG George Hill Darren Collison Lance Stephenson
    SG Eric Gordon Paul George  
    C Roy Hibbert Greg Oden Lou Amundson
    SF Danny Granger Dahntay Jones Jeff Taylor (R)
    PF David West Tyler Hansbrough Jeff Pendergraph

    That roster might just be good enough to win you a title and make sure you're picking with one of the high numbers again. Which isn't a bad thing at all.