The Pacers are a team on the cusp of competing for a spot among the Eastern Conference elites. The rebuilding process started three years ago with the drafting of Roy Hibbert. A 7'0" center of the future? Check.
Two drafts later, the Pacers raised eyebrows by drafting Paul George with the 10th pick in the draft. The decision seems to suggest that starting All-Star Danny Granger's days in Indiana are numbered. Future athletic small forward? Check. Enticing trade asset? Check.
Then last summer GM Larry Bird pulled off a surprising trade that landed Darren Collision. Dynamic point guard of the future? Check.
All that was needed was for the team to produce on the court. When interim coach Frank Vogel took over just after the midpoint of the season, the young Pacers looked and played at a remarkably higher level and made the playoffs after a miserable four-year absence. Suddenly, excitement and promise was back in the basketball heartland. A young, talented team has finally emerged from the wreckage of the fight in Auburn Hills and the Pacers are ready to challenge the East's best teams.
But energy and heart can only take you so far. Before the Indiana can truly make the leap back into contention, more work needs to be done. Namely, the Pacers need to find a quality shooting guard and a true power forward.
Here are seven draft-day moves that can help the Pacers go a long way towards earning the respect that Reggie Miller and company worked so hard to build during the late '90s and early 2000s.
The sad reality of being a small-market franchise in a relatively indistinguishable city in the Midwest is the fact that the top free agents in the game don't want to come to Indiana. The Pacers can't offer a max contract to more than one player, nor is Indianapolis a particularly sexy city. Players won't take their talents to Indiana because it is a landlocked state (mind you, an awesome one) surrounded by cornfields. It's not Chicago, L.A. or New York either.
Thus the Pacers need to draft well and get creative with their trades. They also need an upgrade at starting shooting guard and power forward to finish the final stages of the rebuilding process.
Trading with the Rockets could net them both. Here is why a trade that will land the Pacers Courtney Lee, Jordan Hill and the Rockets' 23rd pick in exchange for Danny Granger, Brandon Rush and the Pacers' 15th pick will work for both teams.
As aforementioned, the Pacers need help at the 2 and power forward. While Hansbrough has flashed promise, neither he nor McRoberts are true starting material. Jordan Hill is. The Rockets are apparently enamored by Hill, but face the un-envious dilemma of having a logjam of good players at the position.
With Scola as the starter and last year's 14th pick Patrick Patterson as the backup, Hill doesn't have the steady role and playing time he desires. In Indiana he would. Hill is a long, athletic hustler that Coach Vogel craves and would be allowed to blossom into his full potential.
Then there is Courtney Lee. Like Hill, Lee has never been given an opportunity to shine. Stuck behind Kevin Martin, Lee's talents are wasting away on the bench. In Indy, the hometown Lee would be given a full-time starting gig and could hopefully produce similarly to how he did in Orlando. Not only would he give the Pacers the coveted shooting guard they have been looking for, he is also a good three-point shooter, which Indiana desperately lacks.
On the other hand, the Rockets would benefit immensely as well. One of the deepest teams in the league, Houston lacks a go-to scorer to close out games and carry them on off nights. Granger can be that guy and fills their positional void at small forward. The Rockets would also get Rush, a decent backup who can shoot and would move ahead eight spots in the draft. If need be, the Pacers could always throw in Josh McDaniels or another role player, but that shouldn't be necessary as both teams come away winners.
Plus the young Pacers would only get younger. A Collison, Lee, George, Hill and Hibbert starting five would be young, athletic, long and tall, and would immediately pose a serious threat to the East's best teams.
Last February as the trade deadline approached, the Pacers had agreed in principle with the Memphis Grizzlies to trade Josh McRoberts and their 2011 first-round pick for O.J. Mayo. The deal fell through because the two teams couldn't finalize the trade and missed the deadline.
At the time, many Pacers fans were mixed on the deal. They shouldn't be anymore and instead better be hoping Memphis is still willing to revisit it, because apparently Larry Bird knew what he was doing as O.J. Mayo played with a lot of heart and became a leader for the Grizzlies during their surprising playoff run.
While the Grizz might be more hesitant this time around, the Pacers should be able to convince Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley to try again. As he admitted back in February, after Randolph and Gasol, Memphis is relatively thin up front but has an abundance of shooting guard/small forward-type players in Tony Allen, Sam Young, Rudy Gay, Xavier Henry and Shane Battier. With Rudy Gay coming back, there might not be room for everyone and O.J. is the perfect fit for the Pacers as he is a guy who can provide constant scoring from the guard spot.
If Memphis hesitates again the Pacers should throw in Hansbrough over McRoberts to sweeten the deal.
The Pacers are one big man short of being a tall order and Al Jefferson could be that guy for the Indiana.
If the Pacers could swing a deal with Utah and land Jefferson they would suddenly have the best frontcourt in the East—a statement that shows the value of Al Jefferson and just how hard it's going to be to land him.
The Jazz are in a tricky position. They've got three All-Star-caliber big men in Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and last year's third pick in the draft, Derrick Favors. Unfortunately for them, they are incredibly weak at the guard and small forward positions. Raja Bell is over the hill and was never a starter to begin with and C.J. Miles is not a reliable scorer in crunch time.
So a trade involving Danny Granger, the Pacers' 15th pick in the draft and even, say, Lance Stephenson (a player the Pacers are high on) makes sense.
From the Jazz point of view Al Jefferson is not a true center and some in Utah think Jefferson's current backup, 7'1 Kyrylo Fesenko, has potential. Plus Millsap is a cheaper version of Jefferson (by almost half) and is nearly as good (2.0 PPG and 1.5 RPG fewer).
Most importantly though, one of them has to go because Derrick Favors needs to be on the court as much as possible. Given his rather large contract, Jefferson is the more expendable player. And, don't forget the extra draft pick to help sweeten the deal.
From the Pacers' perspective, Paul George is the future at small forward and while it will be hard to part ways with Granger, he is not a franchise scorer or player to build around. Al Jefferson will be a major upgrade and would give the Pacers the most formidable and deep front line in the East. Between his 19 and nine a game and Hibbert's 13 and 7.5 a game (and steadily rising) Indiana will be tough to handle and rebound over. Remember, Hansbrough is a rebounding machine as well coming off the bench.
If the Pacers can swing a deal for O.J. Mayo as well, they would suddenly have a very dynamic and deep first five.
If not (a sadly more plausible scenario) think of the size: Hibbert (7'2"), Jefferson (6'10"), George (6'8"), Rush (6'6") and Collison a measly (6'0"). That is rather daunting, don't you agree?
David West New Orleans Hornets
The Pacers can kill two birds with one stone by staying put in the draft, not making a move and then signing David West in free agency. If West doesn't demand a max contract he would be another great fit for the Pacers. At 30 he would certainly be the old man on the team but would provide the Pacers with veteran leadership and playoff experience to go along with his 19 points and nearly eight rebounds a game.
Klay Thompson is a deadly shooter in the mold of Reggie Miller, who will help provide a scoring spark and a three-point threat the Pacers are also desperately lacking. As a junior he was in the top 10 in the nation in scoring, averaging 22.1 PPG. Also, standing at 6'7" he would provide the Pacers with length and he is a solid defender.
If the Pacers were fortunate enough to snag both players, not only would they suddenly have a consistent low-post threat and outside scoring, they would also have incredible depth and trade assets without having to give up Danny Granger.
The Pacers may have to get creative.
If they could sign Wilson Chandler in free agency, then suddenly Danny Granger would become expendable. Throw in Brandon Rush and maybe even a power forward (McRoberts/Hansbrough) and Indiana has the pieces to be really good or the assets to make a blockbuster trade down the road.
Implausible maybe, but not entirely out of the question. Denver would like to keep Chandler, who not only averaged close to 16 PPG, but also is a quality defender. Currently though, Chandler would be a backup to Danilo Gallinari. So unless he is OK playing only 20 minutes, knowing he could start in most cities, Chandler might not chose to stay in Denver.
Why not land in a city that is crazy about basketball, has deep hoops traditions and is a young and supposedly close group with a lot of potential?
If Indiana can woo him then immediately the attention turns to getting Monta Ellis, who is not working out alongside Stephen Curry in Golden State.
Ellis and Chandler would give the Pacers dynamic wing players and lots of offensive firepower. This is a tandem Bird should pursue.
If the going gets tough, pick on David Kahn.
After a few years of being made fun of and dumped on by the media, it looks like Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn might be a genius after all.
Oh, wait...After initially taking Rubio, who refused to play in Minnesota in large part because of Kahn's incompetence, he picked a second point guard in Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and Jeff Teague, traded Ty Lawson for Martell Webster, signed Ramon Sessons, picked Wesley Johnson and signed Luke Ridnour among other less-than-impressive moves.
OK, so he's not a genius.
Like every other team on this list, though, David Kahn has an abundance of good players who all play the same positions, and then a terrifyingly bad remaining roster. The reason? Because he drafted and traded that way.
Michael Beasley would fill a huge hole and weakness for the Pacers. His 19.2 PPG would be a nice addition to a position at which the starter rarely cracks double figures. However, unlike the other proposed trades, the Pacers can't fill the Timberwolves' needs. Nevertheless Minnesota needs to move Beasley because Kevin Love is one of the best players in the league and Anthony Randolph could be great as well.
If the Pacers can figure out a way to send a guard, center or picks to Minnesota (none of which Indiana currently possesses or would be willing to give away), then they should definitely go after Beasley.
Or they could just trick Kahn again. It wouldn't be the first time.