Despite showing moments of promise during the 2010-2011 season and playoffs, many doubt that Pacers have a high ceiling as a team. With their current group, they may, in a couple years, take a shot at 50 wins, but it seems that a title is far out of this team's reach.
The team relies on teamwork, being scrappy and depth. It does have one of the best benches in the NBA. In fact, at times it performs better than their starting five. But that's also a knock on their starting five.
More specifically, Darren Collison may soon turn into a top-10 point guard, Tyler Hansbrough is starting to show more promise and Roy Hibbert will likely become a top-five center next year (not like that means so much), but all of a sudden, Danny Granger seems to have neared his full potential.
Last year Granger showed the promise to become Indiana's franchise player of the future, but now there are plausible trade talks forming of him being traded to give the Pacers a stab at a real future star. Going into the offseason, they have some trade chips and the 15th and 42nd overall picks.
Here is their current projected depth chart for the 2011-2012 season (note that although several players can play multiple positions, only Dahntay Jones is listed as such, as he is considered their sixth man):
PG: Darren Collison, A.J. Price
SG: Paul George, Brandon Rush, Dahntay Jones, Lance Stephenson
SF: Danny Granger, James Posey, Dahntay Jones
PF: Tyler Hansbrough
C: Roy Hibbert
Free agent re-signings
Key players not being re-signed from last year are PG T.J. Ford, SF/SG Mike Dunleavy Jr., PF/C Josh McRoberts and C Jeff Foster. Ford played very little last season despite being an excellent backup. Re-signing Dunleavy would only contribute to the team's logjam of wings, although his three-point shooting would be missed.
McRoberts and Foster, however, are keys to the grittiness that the team relies on, and they might contribute more in Pacers uniforms (for little money) than in any other uniform, which is why they should be re-signed if nothing else jumps off the page.
What the team really needs is a franchise player. Luckily, it might be in position to get one. The Pacers already have their depth chart filled in, besides backups at center and power forward, at $35 million next year. I'll assume that they re-sign McRoberts and Foster and maybe one more cheap guy (I suggest taking big man Jordan Williams out of Maryland 42nd overall, which has been projected) to take them up to around $40 million.
They still won't have their franchise player yet, but Danny Granger could be that guy if he can improve like he was expected to a year ago. But until then, the team might look for an already proven high-profile player, even if it's at Granger's expense.
It doesn't look like the draft will provide the solution. They are projected by many to take Klay Thompson at No. 15, but I think this would just add to their collection of decent shooting guards. They are strong at point guard and very strong at small forward, center and bench.
Tyler Hansbrough isn't living up to the hype yet, but he can hold his own as a starter. Paul George had a good rookie year and is still adjusting to the NBA. Both players are adequate, but if management thinks that it can upgrade to a big-name player, those would be the positions, as it doesn't look like Danny Granger has an obvious replacement at his own position just waiting to be taken.
It would be pretty hard to trump Granger anyway considering that the league doesn't have an elite collection of small forwards right now besides a few obvious ones.
First of all, Paul George and Dahntay Jones play the same positions at the same level. Jones is a better shooter, while George is more of a slasher, but overall, the team doesn't need both guys. George is still at the beginning of his career but he isn't really a project-type prospect, so he probably has more trade value. If he gets traded, they are still fine at SG, where Brandon Rush would retake his starting job, and at backup small forward. That's not even including who they might get back in any given deal.
Also, let's use my scenario of filling in their frontcourt as previously mentioned. This gives them a full roster (plus Lance Stephenson in the D-League) for as little as $40 million in the 2011-2012 season.
I've looked through the list of free agents, and I just don't see the main guy coming as a free agent signing this year. There are some centers to be found and a load of excellent role players and sixth men, but that's certainly not what they need. Unless you think they could land Ray Allen or Tim Duncan, or that David West would be anything of a fit at all, free agency is not the way.
So let's go back to trades. They have obvious trading chips, like Paul George and/or Dahntay Jones, Danny Granger if the situation calls for it, probably Tyler Hansbrough and most importantly, in my opinion, whoever they take in the first round. I'm sure they'd trade just about anybody if it would help the team.
One idea is to trade Danny for Eric Gordon. Although no exact idea is indicated, the concept would make sense, according to an article by Chad Smith.
Another idea, according to contributor Joseph Fafinski, would be Granger and Jones to Utah for Al Jefferson and this year's 12th overall pick.
But here's my idea. First of all, keep in mind that the 2012 draft is supposed to be extremely strong.
Pacers give up: Lance Stephenson, A.J. Price, Dahntay Jones, Danny Granger, 2011 Second-Round Pick, 2012 Second-Round Pick and 2014 First-Round Pick
76ers give up: Andre Iguodala, 2013 Second-Round Pick
76ers gain: Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson, Derrick Caracter, Pacers' 2011 Second-Round Pick, Pacers' 2012 Second-Round Pick, Lakers' 2012 First-Round Pick and Pacers' 2014 First-Round Pick
Lakers give up: Steve Blake, Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, Derrick Caracter, 2012 First-Round Pick and 2013 First-Round Pick
Lakers gain: Dahntay Jones, A.J. Price, Danny Granger
Basically, the Lakers get younger in exchange for some guys that had to go and a few draft picks. The Pacers get Andre Iguodala and a veteran point guard in Steve Blake, plus a couple 2013 picks for Danny Granger and their bench guards, along with a few picks over the next couple years.
The 76ers at least get something for Andre Iguodala. They get a couple young guys, Ron Artest and Matt Barnes to fill in their holes at small forward and lots of picks over the next couple years. Everybody gets their needs fit, and it all works out financially. Still, I'm not saying it's the answer to everything. Philadelphia gets worse, but they do receive draft picks and at least they get something back for Andre Iguodala. I'm merely throwing out an idea.
Anyway, that's my take on the Pacers' offseason (and then some). I'd love to hear what you think, so please comment and critique me or leave ideas.