In the 2011-2012 NBA season the Indiana Pacers shed themselves of the underdog label and, in the wake of their strong showing in the NBA Playoffs, earned the title of emerging contender. With that said, they remain a small market team and will look once again to use the draft to strengthen their rotation.
Although often criticized early on in Indiana, Larry Bird now has the full support of the fans in Indiana as well as an NBA Executive of the Year award behind him. Assuming that Bird returns to the team, he will have already started looking at prospective members of his young team.
The Pacers started a lineup in 2011-2012 that featured three draft picks selected under Bird's careful watch. Of those three, (Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Paul George) Granger and Hibbert have already played on all-star teams. Beyond that, the bench in Indiana features several Bird draft picks such as Tyler Hansbrough, A.J. Price, and Lance Stephenson. Not to mention that Bird's pick last year, Kawhi Leonard, was traded to San Antonio for George HIll, a prominent member of the Pacers' run in the playoffs.
If the Pacers want to follow the path of the Oklahoma City Thunder and become a small market team that rises to prominence through the draft, they will, yet again, have to make the right choices. With one pick in this year's draft after the Leandro Barbosa deal cost them a second-round pick, the Pacers will have to make their first-round selection a good one.