It is strange to think about how much of an impact an 0-2 week has had on Pacers fans.
I have gotten more calls and texts in the last three days from people who don't follow the Pacers about the promise the young team has shown than I have gotten all year combined.
Of course, since I am not from Indianapolis, I got zero calls or texts this year about the Pacers, so it wasn't hard to beat. The team with the NBA's lowest attendance is suddenly a hot team to talk about.
The future may be bright in Indy, but it can get a lot brighter this summer when the Pacers rid themselves of the contracts of high-priced players like T.J. Ford ($8.5 million), Jeff Foster ($6.7 million) and Mike Dunleavy ($10.5 million). They also are no longer committed to the $1.5 million they are paying Solomon Jones.
That is over $27 million coming off the books this year.
The Pacers will probably never lure a big free agent to Indianapolis, but they could roll the dice on a wild card. Greg Oden could be that wild card.
I have been in favor of the Pacers making a play for Oden for some time now based on the idea that I am not crazy about any of the other players that are free agents after this season.
It would not be wise for the Pacers to sign an established veteran who is not a franchise guy—like a Caron Butler, for example. Signing someone like that would just throw a cog into the rebuilding with youth strategy, which seems to be on track.
I would equate a signing like that to the Bucks signing Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette last offseason. It might be look for stretches on the court, but can very easily screw up the team chemistry and take time away from the young, developing players, like a Paul George.
One question though: Is Oden even going to be available?
Right now, it looks like Portland is leaning towards re-signing him, because he is a restricted free agent. If they do, the Pacers would have to work out some sort of sign-and-trade for Oden.
A theory has been floated out there that involves the Pacers trading Roy Hibbert for Oden. I am not on board with that. If they do a sign-and-trade, it should involve someone like a Josh McRoberts, Brandon Rush or even Danny Granger.
I am not saying the Pacers need to move Granger, but I think they have the talent on the team now that they can afford to move him. He has shown in the Chicago series a tendency to not trust his teammates, as noted by the TNT announcers, and forcing shots when he doesn't need to.
This is unlikely, but with Brandon Roy facing uncertainty about his health, the Blazers might be interested in Granger.
Regardless, that is something that would have to be worked out between Indy and Portland.
The reason I do not like the Hibbert-for-Oden swap is simple: Oden is too risky to give up the only center on the Pacers roster.
While I think Oden has potential to be better than Big Roy, I still think Hibbert is better than most people give him credit for. Hibbert also has shown a coachability that is rare, and a desire to work. He has really worked hard on his conditioning and post play, and compared to where he was a year or two ago, it has shown.
The other scenario is if the Blazers do not re-sign Oden. This is the scenario I am interested in. Oden was paid $8.8 million this season for not playing at all. The Pacers could probably get him in Indy for somewhere around $40 million for four or five years.
You never know, he could even give them a hometown discount.
The hometown theory is ofter overblown, but in Oden's case it might not be. It is well-known that Oden is a comfort-zone type of guy. I am not saying he needs a change of scenery from Portland; Portland has been great to him, but going home can't hurt.
Not only would he have the city on his side from Day 1, he could have his family and friends around to assist him daily on his way back to playing. The change of scenery theory only works on Oden if it means Indianapolis, his hometown.
After the things he has been through in the last couple years, I will doubt he would want to be anywhere else than Portland or Indianapolis.
If the Pacers were a big-market team, the thing to do might be to bid their time. Let the core stay intact next year while signing some one-year guys and make a run at the big-time free agents (like Chris Paul or Deron Williams) in the summer of 2012.
The Pacers do not have that luxury. Those guys are not signing in Indy. Indiana also does not have a very attractive draft pick this year. They pick 15th in a very weak draft.
The thing to do for the Pacers may be to roll the dice on Oden. A core of Oden, Hibbert, Collison, George, Granger, Hansbrough and Rush is very promising. They would still have money left over to sign another mid-level star (like a Jason Richardson) to help the young group take the next step.
Oden and Hibbert could split time at center, which would allow both of them to save their legs. It would also help with the rebounding issues the Pacers have, as the Bulls have exploited this week.
While the Pacers have won back some fans with their last two games, a big offseason splash would go a long way to keeping those fans interested come November.
Greg Oden still has the potential to be a franchise center in the NBA.
Franchise centers do not come around every day. The Pacers should make a play for the big guy and bring him home to the Circle City.
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