The Indiana Pacers finished with the fifth-best record in the NBA in 2011-2012 and had their most successful season in the heartland since 2003-2004. The big question facing Indiana this upcoming season is: Where do they go from here?
The Pacers have opted to largely keep their roster in-tact; a smart move for now. The clock is ticking, however, and many are wondering if a similar roster will be good enough to out-duel Miami—or even Chicago—next time around.
Danny Granger is still in the prime of his career and it’s wise to see if he can turn the corner this season and become one of the league's best. The pressure is on. Granger just finished up his seventh season in the league (all with Indiana) and if he wants to go toe-to-toe and be in the same class as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, it’s his time to prove it.
The Pacers showed the maturity of a team well beyond its years last season. Indiana boasts one of the youngest rosters in the league and a rising star in the coaching profession in Frank Vogel. The big gap in continuity for the 2012-2013 season is the loss of President of Basketball Operations, Larry Bird.
"The Legend" left the team in stunning fashion shortly after the season, referencing physical fatigue, according to Bob Kravitz:
“But the one thing he (Bird) would always bring up was the pain he was feeling in his eternally balky back, the fact it was so difficult to sit for hours on end and watch tape or sit in a gym and watch prospects.”
Donnie Walsh is back in charge as President of Basketball Operations in Indy and Kevin Pritchard takes over as general manager in favor of David Morway. The Legend’s direction will be sorely missed, but this team is in great hands with familiar face Donnie Walsh making the key management decisions in the front office.
Walsh was the architect behind the great Pacers teams of the mid-late 1990s. The closest the Pacers came to a title during those glory years was a mere two games away in the 2000 NBA Finals. In his second go-around, Walsh hopes to bring them back to the Finals and help get them over the hump.
The Pacers challenged, but could not match the star power of the Miami Heat this past season, falling in six games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Pacers dropped the final three games of the series by a combined 48 points.
Indiana will have the same core group of scorers returning and two rounds of hard-fought playoff experience under their belts. The optimism and belief in the Hoosier state continues to grow that the time is now.
This upcoming season will be an opportunity to prove that a team who lacks a true go-to player can win it all. Indiana is a joy to watch—a representation of finesse and team-first basketball at its finest. However, those kind of teams rarely ever walk away with the NBA’s top prize.
The Association is a superstar-driven league where many games come down to isolation moments in which a team’s best player often goes one-on-one with the clock winding down to hit a difficult shot at the buzzer.
Indiana has added some key pieces and made re-signing Roy Hibbert their highest off season priority. Bringing Hibbert back was a necessity and intelligent move for this budding franchise. 7’2” centers with excellent footwork, high basketball IQ and soft touch close to the basket are difficult to find.
Pacers fans should be excited about the arrival of D.J. Augustin. The Pacers pulled off a shrewd move in signing the former Charlotte Bobcat. Augustin comes in on a one-year deal for $3.5M, a low-risk, high-reward potential for a player that was dying for a change of scenery.
Augustin is a smooth point guard with a pass-first mentality whose career had stagnated in Charlotte. He should challenge for major minutes at the point, largely because George Hill’s best natural fit is at shooting guard. Now, the talented, still very young point man will have a bevy of scoring options to kick the rock to and jump start the Pacers offense.
Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard said:
"In Charlotte, he was so looked upon to score, but with us he can be a facilitator, or be in a pick-and-roll and find players, but he doesn't have to go in to score to help us. His role will change, but he really embraced that when we talked to him."
George Hill is more of a combo guard that at 6’2” can handle the ball, yet lacks the court vision and playmaking ability Augustin provides. Hill’s scoring ability is unquestioned and he’s a nice up tempo player who meshes perfectly with this athletic group of young players.
The Pacers have a multitude of scoring options, which is a refreshing thought. However, it’s high time for Danny Granger take the next step in his career from Top-20 scorer to Top-20 player. Granger has the talent to make a run at becoming an All-NBA player. The third team would be a spectacular achievement for him in 2012-2013.
Granger averaged 25.8 points per game just three seasons ago and has become a highly proficient outside shooter. If there’s one weakness in his offensive game, it’s his inability to create opportunities for other scorers while penetrating. Granger can get to the rim, but needs to emulate scorers like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant who get their teammates plenty of open looks.
The Pacers found a nice athletic, rangy shooting guard to back up Paul George in Gerald Green. The high-flying, straight-from-high school prodigy is finally growing into his freakishly athletic frame at the age of 26.
He’s already on his sixth team after coming into the league during the 2005-06 season and he made big strides in a short stint with the Nets last season. George showed considerable improvement in his three-point touch this past season and at the shooting guard spot is a great rebounder with limitless potential.
David West is a proven veteran at the power forward position that fit in very nicely in Indy last season. West finished tied for second on the Pacers in scoring and second in rebounding. He's no longer the main option down low, like he was in New Orleans, though West is still a load to handle in the post.
Next year may be the Pacers time to challenge the Bulls and Heat for Eastern conference supremacy. Indiana lacks the star power of their competitors, but their depth, along with their excellent outside shooting and Top-Ten defense leaves them in excellent shape.
The Pacers will soon find out if all of their strategically placed pieces can coalesce to reach the pinnacle of the basketball universe in 2013. The Pacers have had time to gel and they have gained the experience necessary to make a major run this season.