Indiana Pacers' X-Ray

Guest post by Rafael Uehara of Basketballoutsider.wordpress.com

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Basketball matters in Indiana but the local team, the Pacers, haven’t mattered in the landscape of the NBA for a while. With Larry Bird as the franchise’s main decision maker, since 2003, the organization is yet to put their shit together since the retirement of Reggie Miller.

We also can’t forget the hit they took with the “civil war on the Palace of Auburn Hills”. Many forget that team, led by Ron Artest & Stephen Jackson with Jermaine O’Neal on his prime, were one of the bests in the league and because of that brawl, they were forced to blow up that team. Bird was also forced to change the culture of the team, building around character in order to repair the image of the organization.

But truth is that it just hasn’t worked out. Ever since the 2005-2006 season, the Pacers are yet to win 40 games (2005-2006: 41-41, 2006-2007: 35-47, 2007-2008: 36-46, 2008-2009: 36-46, 2009-2010: 32-50).

Last season was no different with very few people realizing Indiana was in the National Basketball Association. The 32-50 record was the result of bad personnel moves, an injury prone roster and a coach with a questionable approach.

Jim O’Brien demands full effort on defense and provides more liberty when they have the ball. They are also very boring to watch since they foul the crap out of the opponents since O’Brien’s theory is that the referees can call everything. With that in mind, Bird’s biggest move last summer was to sign Dahntay Jones to a four year, $10.4 million dollar deal.

But all that focus on defense didn’t pay out. Indiana was 23rd in league in points allowed per game, only 15th in defensive efficiency and 14th in opponent’s FG percentage.

On offense, they weren’t much better either. The Pacers scored 100.8 PPG, 16th in the league, but as a result of the elevated pace, average 99.4 possessions per game (2nd in the league), which made them only 26th on offensive efficiency.

Sure, the bad season can be once again blamed on the amount of injuries. Face of the franchise and team’s best player Danny Granger missed 20 games, his backup Mike Dunleavy Jr. didn’t come far behind with 15 games missed, Jeff Foster played only 16 games (sidelined for most of the year due to the need of back surgery) and 1st round pick Tyler Hansbrough got sick, not hurt but sick, and played only 29 games on his rookie season.

And after yet another disappointing year, Indiana’s approach on the 2010 NBA Draft made it clear that Bird is tired of playing it solid and wait the cap relief to come. From Granger through Roy Hibbert to Hansbrough, all of the Pacers’ draft picks under Bird have been sure things (physical wing scorer, true Center and solid rotation big) within their possibilities on the range where they were selecting. This year’s picks, Paul George and Lance Stephenson, are projected to either be busts or superstars, nowhere in between.

And George & Stephenson have been the franchise’s only acquisitions this summer so far. Also because they are capped out since the fifteen players they either have under contract or contain the cap hold combine to $67,756,458 dollars for the 2010-2011 season.

Bird’s plan is to keep the team competitive enough to put people in the seats until cap room is available in 2011. After the next season, Indiana has only $25,689,725 dollars on the books. The goal hasn’t really been achieved since, as written before, very few people have noticed Indiana was a part of the NBA on the last few years. It also can’t be forgotten that the 2011-2012 season will feature a work stoppage. So, add one more agonizing year where basketball is half dead in Indiana.

In the end, Bird’s tenure took a couple of main hits, like the retirement of the franchise’s best player ever and a brawl that diminished their image combined with multiple suspensions, but his decisions, cap strategy and personnel moves, weren’t wise. The result has been a franchise that doesn’t deserve to be on the market they are. And although there’s a light in the end of the tunnel, cap space in 2011, the Pacers seem to need more than a couple of overpaid free agents, they need an identity.

Information from ESPN’s stats & info, ESPN’s John Hollinger and Mark Sham were used in this post.

Rafael Uehara is the managing figure of the Basketball Outsider. He can be followed on twitter @rafael__uehara. More of his stuff can be found here.

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