What a strange month or so it has been for the Indiana Pacers franchise and its fans.
Against the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat, the Pacer faithful came out to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in full force to watch their Pacers be denied by LeBron and Wade. Yet, when it was all said the done, the fans stayed until the end to chant "Thank you, Pacers."
It seemed the franchise had made a long, inspiring comeback in the basketball hotbed that is Indiana.
Suddenly, that all seems like old news.
Last month, it was revealed that Larry Bird would be leaving after the draft. Donnie Walsh would be back, and Kevin Pritchard would be taking over GM duties from the departing David Morway.
Seeing Bird leave was not viewed as a good thing by most fans, but they figured with Pritchard and Walsh running the show, it would be fine.
Bird first, however, had unfinished business in the form of the 2012 NBA draft. He left with a bang, if you want to call it that, by picking Duke big man, Miles Plumlee with the 26th pick.
This pick was, shall we say, criticized.
Pacer fans were not the only observers puzzled by the Plumlee addition, as most national NBA "experts" have openly mocked the pick. It seems Pacers fans may not be too off base by saying it was an enormous reach to take Plumlee.
But, the Pacers also had a big free agent summer coming. With Roy Hibbert and George Hill as restricted free agents, and the rest of the core players locked up, Indiana appeared poised for a huge summer.
That, however, hasn't been the case.
Indiana did re-sign George Hill to a five-year, $40 million contract. The dollar amount might be slightly excessive, but Hill is an Indiana native, whom the fans love and who performed at a high level as a starter toward the end of last season. Locking up Hill was a good thing.
The Hibbert case has been different.
Portland came out of the gates extremely aggressive and offered Big Roy a max contract. It is not clear whether the Pacers will match it.
Bob Kravitz and Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star seem to have different opinions on what will happen. Kravitz thinks the Pacers will re-sign Hibbert, while Wells believes the center will be in Portland next season.
Truthfully, either option is defensible for the Pacers.
Big men like Hibbert are a rarity in today's NBA. However, after watching the 2012 Finals, I found myself wondering whether a big man like Hibbert—who can not create his own shot outside of three feet—is a necessity. More importantly, is it worth $14 million a year for a guy who averaged only 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last season?
Good numbers, but $14 million-a-year numbers?
If the Pacers re-sign Hibbert, they won't have a ton of cash to do much else. The problem with doing little else, is that all the other contenders are being extremely aggressive.
The Nets have re-signed Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and acquired former Hawk Joe Johnson. If they get Dwight Howard, they are immediately a contender. I am not sure if it is financially possible or the Nets to land Howard, but some seem to think it is.
Boston has made moves, adding Jason Terry through free agency (news via Boston Globe) and selecting Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo in the draft. The Lakers got Steve Nash (news via Ken Berger of CBS Sports). The Heat are in discussions with Ray Allen, who is contemplating a return to Boston (via Brian Windhorst of ESPN).
We have seen Houston, Toronto and Phoenix spending money. Perhaps most disheartening to Pacer fans is the fact that Phoenix apparently has Eric Gordon wanting to sign there, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN. Granted, the Hornets can match it, and likely will, but if they don't, that could go down as a huge opportunity missed by the Pacers.
I am realistic. I know the Pacers had little chance to get Steve Nash, or Eric Gordon or even Jason Terry—if there was even any interest in those guys to begin with. But there are still some names out there that could help. O.J. Mayo, Brandon Roy and Jamal Crawford—just to name a few.
Instead, the names we are hearing are Courtney Lee (news via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports), Chris Kaman (whom I actually wouldn't mind in a Pacer uniform...news via mlive.com) and Gerald Green (news via Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star).
Is that the way to keep up with the contenders?
I'll leave that question up to the front office. However, as they watch other top NBA teams making moves to beef up their rosters, the Pacers can't expect to contend without adding slashers or players who can create their own shot. If they are expecting to do so with the current roster, they are fooling themselves.
I realize that July 11 marks the official start date for signing contracts, and for all we know, the Pacers have been huge players behind the scenes. But very little has been public.
Re-signing George Hill was a good start. Now it is time for the Pacers to keep themselves relevant in the eyes of their fans and the rest of the league by taking another step forward in free agency—instead of a step back.