Are the Pacers headed in the right direction? Is the core of Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansborough, and Paul George a core that can develop into title contenders? Are the Pacers doomed to be perennial eighth seed one and dones in the playoffs? Or was this season just prelude to a return to lottery hell?
The fate of interim coach, Frank Vogel, is also in question as a number of established coaches, including Mike Brown and Rick Adelman, have been linked to them as potential coaches.
If you look at the job that Vogel has done, however, taking a team in disarray and taking them to the playoffs without the benefit of major moves. If you think about it, Vogel went 20-18 with the exact same team Jim O'Brien went 17-27 with. Based on that alone you would think Vogel would be back as coach next season, but the Pacers have an interesting offseason ahead of them.
Larry Bird said publicly that he considered resigning, and his history has shown that he rarely likes to stay in the same position for too long. Based on the fact that the only reason he is coming back was due to the Pacers making the playoffs, is he going to build for three or four years down the line or is he going to try to make a big move to get into the top four of the conference now?
I think it begins with Danny Granger.
As I documented at the trade deadline, I think the Pacers should move him now. It's not that I don't like Granger, I think he is a remarkable scorer that is able to score points in bunches from a multitude of places on the court. Those types of players are incredibly valuable in the NBA and teams will often overpay to get one.
The Pacers have two others on the roster in Brandon Rush and Paul George, and that makes one of them expendable. Moving Granger makes the most sense for a number of reasons. The first is that he is 28. That isn't old in the NBA (though I would question his ability to consistently stay healthy) but when you factor in the relative ages of the rest of the team (Collison is 23, George is 20, Hibbert is 24) it just makes sense to move him instead of George or Rush.
Then you look at his contract. It is incredibly manageable as it caps out at 14 million a year in the last year, and it has three years remaining. So when it is up he will be 31, which means that he will be 31 when he wants to get paid for the last time.
Now, does it seem realistic that the Pacers will be ready to contend for a championship in three years? Are the Pacers going to be willing to give Danny Granger a fat six-year contract in three years? If they aren't contending for a title, why pay him that money? If they aren't going to give him the money in three years, why not trade him now when he has the most value?
There are plenty of teams looking for a scorer like Granger that have what they consider to be "the guy" and Granger could just be a compliment, a very good compliment in fact. Teams like Golden State, who have (for no good reason) decided that Stephen Curry is not the compliment to Monta Ellis they want, and are looking to move him. It would take a lot to get him, but not so much that the Pacers would have to mortgage their entire team.
The Warriors are going to have to take the best deal they can get, and if they truly plan to build around Monta Ellis, and every indication I have gotten says they are, then they will need to do it for proven talent. A package of Granger, Collison (who the Pacers won't need if they get Curry) and the Pacers first-round pick for Curry, Andres Biedrens, and Charlie Bell.
The Warriors get a true second scorer that they can pair with Ellis, a point guard that will only make Ellis better with his penetrating ability, and they save money. Plus they would have the eleventh and fifteenth picks in the draft. There should be one decent big man there when they pick, and the chance to get a guy that fits their system. The Pacers may take a small step back in terms of experience, but Curry, Brandon Rush, and Paul George is a dynamic scoring trio.
If Hibbert continues to develop like he has the last year, with Hansbrough and Biedrens to compliment him, the Pacers should be sitting in the top half of the Eastern conference within the next three years (two if Dwight Howard gets traded out of the conference). In five they should be legit title contenders.
Hey, I don't want this to become a "crap on Danny Granger" thing, that isn't the case. I just think he takes too many bad shots and often seems disinterested on defense. Yes, he can shoot you into a game, but he can also shoot you out of it because when he loses it he doesn't realize he's lost it so he keeps chucking those shots up there.
Sure, good shooters keep shooting and shoot their way out of it, but that is by taking good shots and driving to the basket. Not dribbling around on the perimeter and taking a contested fall-away jumper. So what if it went in before, it was a bad shot then too. I think this is one of the main reasons he hasn't developed in to the perennial all-star some thought he could be. Did you know he only attempted 466 free throws this year?
That was his career high too. For a guy that shoots 42 percent from the field, he should shoot way more free throws. Free throws help you find your missing shot. It's why the stars try to get to the basket when their shot goes away. Steve Kerr explained it once, he said "you just get confidence, you see the ball go through the net. It loosens you up."
I also think it makes sense, the best sense for the team and for Granger. I don't think he has the mental makeup of "that guy". Does he want the ball? Sure, but he's also ok if someone else gets it. He takes the shot, but he also is willing to stand around while some other guy takes it. That is not what "that guy" does. Maybe someone else would take that shot, but it's only because "that guy" passed the ball to him.
"That guy" demands the ball when the game is on the line, and Granger is not "that guy." There's no shame in that though, there are probably only five to ten of those guys in the league, but there will always be this idea in Indiana that he is "that guy."
Do the Pacers have to move Granger to contend? No not necessarily, but he is by far their largest commodity to most teams in the NBA and he will garner the largest return. There are a few veterans around the league that should be available once the new collective bargaining agreement is in effect. Guys like Josh Smith, of Atlanta, a big physical defender with a lot of athleticism, but where does Smith fit with this team?
Also, he often gets lost with the ball in his hands and resorts to taking contested jumpers instead of using his athleticism at the rim. Plus, neither he nor Granger could play shooting guard so one would be the power forward, and Smith isn't really an all-around upgrade to Tyler Hansbrough. If Zach Randolph had made it to free agency I think the Pacers could have made a run at the hometown guy, and he would have filled a huge need as he would be the only player on the roster that plays with his back to the basket and the Pacers sorely need that.
That is the hardest thing to get, though, in the NBA, and it would require the Pacers trading some of their young pieces to get.
The reality is that any scenario with the Pacers moving Granger is unlikely. Trading Granger would be a huge risk, one that Larry Bird is unlikely to make because he already has one foot out the door. Why make a move that will cause so much backlash with the media, the fans, and the ownership when you are already considering retirement?
If the Pacers continue to develop at this pace they should make the playoffs next season in the bottom half of the conference, probably a six or seven seed and another first round knockout. You figure that the Bucks might be better next year, maybe the Nets contend, maybe the Bobcats, but there don't seem to be very many teams below the Pacers that could supplant them in the next three seasons.
If Roy Hibbert develops in to the second best center in the NBA, which is not at all a stretch to imagine (who are his competitors for second?), and Dwight Howard goes to the West after next season, maybe the Pacers make a run at the top half of the conference.
Is that good enough for the Pacer fans?
I think it may have to be.