Pacers Rank 17

John Hollinger did his future power rankings and put the Indiana Pacers at 17. Here is a little excerpt of how it went:

The Pacers are coming off a terrible season, yet rose a whopping nine spots from No. 26 to No. 17 in our rankings. Given that the team is essentially Danny Granger and a lot of question marks, what gives? A couple of factors are fueling our optimism at the moment.

First, center Roy Hibbert continues to show promise, as do three new Pacers: Via the draft, Indiana added swingman Paul George and two sleepers, Lance Stephenson and Magnum Rolle, to the roster. Stephenson, who has a lot of Tyreke Evans in his game, looks like a steal.

Second, the Pacers are also flush with assets. They have a whopping $37 million in players with expiring contracts, including several — Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, T.J. Ford — who could contribute to a playoff team, improving the odds that the Pacers could get a significant piece in return on the trade market.

If the Pacers can’t make a deal, they can walk into next summer with the most salary-cap space of any team in the league. Given their young stable of talent, they might be able to persuade a good free agent to go to Indy.

The Pacers’ struggles since the 2004 brawl are well-documented, but team execs Larry Bird and David Morway now have the franchise set up to make a big leap in 2011. It has been a painful journey in Indiana, but there isn’t a team in the league with more flexibility.

(Previous rank: 26)

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