The Indiana Pacers made big strides last season by reaching the postseason for the first time since 2005-2006. This is an impressive goal for many reasons, the first being that the team never had to make any big trades throughout the season (O.J. Mayo would have been nice if it hadn't fell through) and it also proves that they are gelling as a group.
When Danny Granger is your star player (Sorry Danny, but more on you later), and when the main rotation is really made up of a bunch of young guns and you make the playoffs, and give the 1st place Bulls an early scare, you know you are doing the right things.
The first couple moves you'll see have already happened, but that is just so you understand how important it is that these moves were made.
Will he be the right man for the (official) job?
Finding a coach is the first step for any team, and most teams have a tendency to panic when they go into an offseason without a head coach. That is always task number one. But because free agency always seems to come so quickly most teams always rush their interviews and hire a coach right away, or they already know who they want to hire and then interviews are a waste of time.
Larry Bird, who made many questionable decisions in the past, is FINALLY learning from those mistakes and taking his job seriously. He didn't rush into any decisions on the coaching vacancy. He took his time and interviewed plenty of candidates. Why is that so good? Because Vogel led the team to a 20-18 record which is good, but can he do that for an entire year? That's what Bird was wondering and so he took his time and talked to everyone that was worth listening to and finally settled on "the man he always wanted" Frank Vogel.
So this gets two thumbs up. One for Larry Legend on his hiring choice and process, and one for Frank Vogel who looks to be one of the best young coaches in this league.
When the Pacers traded for Darren Collison, the job of starting point guard was his. T.J. Ford got less of a chance with the Pacers than Charlie Sheen has of returning to Two and a Half Men. A good reason players are as good as they are is because they have the competition everyday in practice. The Pacer's didn't have that. Which means Collison didn't have to always bring his A game because he wasn't sweating his job to Ford, or A.J. Price.
This also means, without having to be said, that the depth at the point guard position was, to say the least, awful. A.J. Price showed signs of life at times, but just because you sneeze once doesn't mean you have a cold. The Pacer's need consistent competition in the backcourt and they got that with the Draft day trade to get George Hill.
Now they have a guy who will challenge Collison to be the starting point guard, and will also give the Pacer's depth at the 1 and 2 positions. Plus he is an Indiana guy coming from Broadripple High School so he will put people in the seats.
Because this also already happened I'll say it again; Congrats Larry Bird, how you are maturing!
Who from this picture won't be around next season?
This is probably the biggest offseason move that the Pacers need to do in order to be successful today, but more importantly be successful TOMORROW.
Let some guys go!
There are only two teams that are really struggling from this problem. That is the Pacers and the Lakers. The Lakers problem is that they refuse to part with Derek Fisher. Loyalty is a great thing as long as they perform, and some players haven't performed.
Now this isn't necessarily the Pacer's fault because of the bad contracts, but they also gave out some of those bad contracts. But now the opportunity to let them go is here, so do it!
Jeff Foster could never score the ball and that is fine as long as he rebounds and plays defense, which he did about seven years ago. 6.3 rebounds last year doesn't cut it. Bad year? No, he averaged 5.1 the year before. The man has been caught by father time and for someone that wasn't too great in his prime, do not bring him back to eat up your money.
Mike Dunleavy. He came in with Troy Murphy (who also ate up money before last year's trade) and has performed decently throughout his time in Indiana. But again his best games were over four seasons ago. Since then he has averaged 19, 15, 10, 11. OK for a bench player? Sure, but he has been in and out of the starting lineup and his games played are going down every year. Injuries and age are catching up to him. Do not sign him for less money, just cut him lose.
Free up money for younger, healthier, more athletic players. Simple and productive.
Great Player? Yes. Superstar? No
Danny Granger is "The Man" in Indiana, but sadly it is because he has been awarded that position by default. Danny can throw points on the board like it was his job (you're welcome for that one) but the problem is he doesn't always seem motivated to do so. He is a great scorer, but doesn't do much more than that, and at times, doesn't even want to score.
His highest ppg average was three years ago when he put up just under 26 a game. Two seasons ago that average slightly dipped to 24 a game, and last year he just notched 20 points a game. For some reason he is struggling during his prime. Why is that?
Because Danny Granger is not the star player that leads a team to the promise land. He is a scorer. If Danny Granger is your second best player, or your second leading scorer than you are a fantastic team. Danny is not Michael, he should be your Pippen. Let him hit some open threes, and occasionally get to the foul line (because the star should be getting there much more than he does especially when you shoot over 85%).
George Hill's acquisition might help take some pressure off of Granger, but they need a better scoring option to compliment Granger. He doesn't even need to be better, but someone that can put up 20 points on any given night.
O.J. Mayo? Jamal Crawford? J.R. Smith? Someone like that to come off the bench, but also play crunch time minutes.
Need and upgrade at Power Forward
Solomon Jones didn't cut it. Josh McRoberts didn't cut it. Tyler Hansbrough will not cut it.
The Pacers haven't had a multi-talented power forward since the likes of Jermaine O'Neal or Al Harrington. The three guys at the top of this list can do nothing but rebound, and Psycho-T is the only one that consistently rebounds. While Hansbrough has improved his offensive game, and at times dominated the offensive end during the Bulls series, he won't get the Pacers to the next level.
Why not make a play for Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap? The Jazz are making both guys available. Why not go after Carl Landry? The Purdue grad that might be one of the rare guys that wants to come to Indiana to play, because coming to Indy is coming home.
All three of those guys can score the ball. Landry won't put up 20 every night, but Al and Paul could get close, and will definitely get you 10 rebounds a game. The way the league is, there is no way the Pacers are going to sign a big name star, but they don't need it. If they keep improving with Danny, Hibbert, Hill, Paul George and Collison, they only need a power forward to compete.
Package Brandon Rush, James Posey, A.J. Price, and some cash and go get Paul Millsap or Jefferson. You've got some young talent, and some money to bring that kind of player in.
Some can go, but this team can win over time.
The final thing is simple; work with what you've got because you are a young team.
Frank Vogel is a young coach that got the players to play in his system and trust in one another.
The team is young with a solid, young veteran in Danny Granger who may not be a superstar player but seems to be a solid leader.
Surround him with solid young talent in Hibbert, Hill, Collison, George, Hansbrough.
You are possibly one good player away from being a team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
But that is only possible if they continue to improve, but that will happen. Keep the core together and this team is built to win in the future. They won't win in next year, but will compete, and could possibly be title contenders within the next six years.
This is a poor man's version of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westrook-Collison, Durant-Granger, Perkins-Hibbert, Harden-Hill, the Pacers just need their version of Ibaka, and that is what they need to find.
Don't trade any of the young core for a proven veteran that is too expensive, just get a solid player like a Millsap and you will compete with the best of them.
Continue to improve. You are young and you have the time to coach this team and improve the old fashioned way; hard work and build chemistry.