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Where Do We Go From Here?

Their wildly inconsistent play notwithstanding, the Indiana Pacers would appear to have the upper hand against either Milwaukee or Charlotte for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The winner of this spot will have a losing record and be considered one of the weakest playoff teams in recent years. Any of the trio competing for the spot are likely looking at the losing end of a short series with either Chicago or Boston.

So, let’s say the Pacers do qualify for the playoffs. Let’s say Boston gets the number one seed and the Pacers lose the series 4-1. That would certainly be a mark of progress for the Pacers to celebrate.

The question is, where do we go from here?

With lots of expiring contracts coming off the books, the Pacers have set themselves up with significant cap room and the ability to sign or trade for players that would have been unattainable targets in recent years.

Unfortunately, several questions loom before we get to see anything resembling a shopping spree.

Question #1: Does Larry Bird have a future with the Pacers?

My gut instinct tells me that if Bird wanted to stay he would have said so by now. We saw this same melodrama play out when he was coaching the Pacers. In the end, Bird left in spite of the fact that he had just led the Pacers to the NBA Finals for the only time in their franchise history. Bird simply didn’t want to coach again. Now there are strong rumors that Bird and his family are moving back to Florida. Since I can’t see Bird running the Pacers from a beach, I think he’s probably done with his presidency.

Question #2: Who is the next president/general manager of the Pacers?

Rather than throw out a bunch of names, let’s assume that Kevin Pritchard, the former Portland Trailblazers general manager, was not just visiting when he spent time with the Pacers this season. Let’s assume that Pritchard was sizing up the Pacers and owner Herb Simon was doing the same with Pritchard. Pritchard was supposedly criticized for being “loose” with Trailblazers owner Paul Allen’s money. That is probably Simon’s only concern with Pritchard. Yes, not all billionaires want to throw nickels around the way that Mark Cuban does. Pritchard did a good job in Portland and would seem to be a logical pick to run the Pacers.

Question #3: Who is the next head coach of the Pacers?

Remember, Frank Vogel is an interim head coach. Has he done enough to merit a second look? My guess is that Pritchard would not bring back Vogel because he’ll want a fresh start with his own guy.

Question #4: What does a new general manager think about the current Pacers roster?

This is where things begin to get a bit tricky. Pritchard is an avowed advocate of blowing up a losing roster and tanking for a couple of seasons to rebuild. He will have no loyalty to players that he didn’t draft and players that couldn’t produce a winning season. He would likely have to modify his blowing up and tanking views to please Simon. With the cap space available, Pritchard certainly won’t have his hands tied when it comes to making moves, but he will be expected to put a winning product on the floor next year. Simon would likely argue that the Pacers have already been bad — maybe not top of the lottery bad, but in the lottery bad up to this year — therefore it’s not necessary to go through any more pain. Decide who you are going to keep and fix the rest of roster now.

Question #5: How do you fix the roster if there’s an impending lockout?

If there is a lockout this will give Pritchard more time to review the roster. Since he spent time here this season he likely already has formed an opinion on the players. Pritchard will need to make a blind wish list by position of his ideal team. Then, he will evaluate how many players on the current roster fit into this profile. Questions at each position will need to answered. I don’t pretend to have the answers, so you’ll only see questions.

Question #6: Point Guard: Can Darren Collison manage a high enough assist-to-turnover ratio to effectively lead this team into future?

Question #7: Shooting Guard: Can Paul George be an effective scoring shooting guard next season?

Question #8: Small Forward: Is Danny Granger someone that you can build a contender around or is he a big scorer on a bad team?

Question #9: Power Forward: Can you build a winning team around Tyler Hansbrough as a second scoring option on offense?

Question #10: Center: Is Roy Hibbert a reliable starting NBA center?

Question #11: After you’ve made all of these player evaluations, how many projected starters do you need?

This is what faces the Pacers as they head down the stretch of this season. There are lots of questions without a lot of solid answers. Has this roster shown enough for management to think that they can build on top of what’s already here? My guess is no. That makes the process that much tougher. What is there to build around? The likely lockout only complicates matter further, meaning that trades will not happen until a settlement is reached.

The summer of 2011 was intended to be the time that the Pacers felt some relief and could put the finishing touches on a winning roster. Instead it could be a time when the team goes through wholesale changes, including a new general manager, new coach and a new core of starting players.

The stretch run of this season and the upcoming offseason will be the most important for the Pacers in decades. Decisions will be made that will determine whether the team rises to NBA relevance or is mired in lottery-land for years to come.

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  • Terry Donahue

    Great description of the situation. I think we should try to build on what we have, rather than blowing it up. I think the decision on a coach may be the most important move we make, and installing a new system, both offensive and defensive should be the first priority. I don`t care to think of Granger as a part to build around as much as the only part we have in place of a competitive team. Every one else is either a potential part or a role player. I think we should build with Granger and not around him, and if an opportunity presents itself to improve the roster by trading him, or anyone else, we should do so.

  • Sam

    I’m sick of my teams going through “rebuilding seasons”. I’ve spent a whole decade seeing ND football do that, and the Pacers just went through it the past few seasons. If a new guy comes in I hope he realizes how dire of a situation it is Indy. There is hardly any support for this team, and if they get rid of fan favorites without positive results it is going to get ugly.

  • Chris D.

    I was at the Charlotte game last night. By coincidence I saw the Dec. game vs. Charlotte in Indy during a family visit. First, Pacers fans are still more energetic than Bobcats fans by far. Attendance is very weak both places. Pacers could be lots better but they do look like a playoff team vs. Bobcats who got worse after their trade. Pacers fans will come back if we can start a season, say, 20-10 and stay on the plus side, finishing #4 or #5 in the East for a season or two. Then we think about what it takes to be East champs. If we set reasonable incremental goals instead of abstract ones, things look more managable. We don’t have to blow up the team to get to where I’m pointing. We do need another big man to push Roy. Foster can’t play forever. We could make an upgrade at any position, but not all at the same time. I don’t know how great this fellow from Portland is supposed to be but I haven’t seen them win the West lately, so count me
    skeptical. This team (as is) could finish #6 in the East given a full season without JOB. So I’m hoping we don’t get stupid.

  • Alex Yovanovich

    Here’s Kevin Pritchard’s background.

    Pritchard was born in Bloomington, Indiana. He played a key role on the 1988 Kansas national championship-winning team. He had a six-year NBA career, bouncing around to the Warriors, Celtics,76ers, Heat and Bullets. He was GM/coach of the new ABA Kansas City Knights, which he led to a minor league championship in 2001. He then became a scout, training under R.C. Buford with the San Antonio Spurs. He took over coaching the Portland Trail Blazers on an interim basis when the team fired Maurice Cheeks in 2005. He left coaching to move to the front office with Portland, where he eventually became GM in 2007.

    Pritchard’s draft picks include Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum, however, he also drafted Greg Oden. He orchestrated a trade with Phoenix where Portland got James Jones and the #24 pick in the draft, Rudy Fernandez, in exchange for cash. Pritchard was fired on the day of the 2010 NBA draft. Portland owner Paul Allen received national criticism for the move.

    The most interesting part of Pritchard’s reign as GM in Portland is the team’s record before and after his hire. Prior to Pritchard taking over as GM, the team went 27-55, 21-61 and 32-50. After Pritchard took over the GM spot, the Trail Blazers went 41-41, 54-28 and 50-32.

    This improvement is probably a good reason why you shouldn’t be skeptical of Pritchard.

  • Nathan

    Blowing up the team would not go over well in Indiana. Bird has had chances to trade Granger and couldn’t get value for him. Unless Pritchard trades Granger for Hoosier native Eric Gordon and a first round pick fans will rebel.

    The team needs to work on the bench. Once you get pass the starting five who on this team would play minutes for a contender? Josh McRoberts? Jeff Foster? Brandon Rush? Not really. The bench is something they can fix through free agency and Pritchard can do that with the cap space.

  • Chris D.

    Alex, thanks for the stats on Pritchard. 50-32 in the West is nothing to yawn at, but I would definitely be leery of anyone coming in a looking to do the sort of overhaul you indicate. This Pacers team could be improved, no doubt, but I see some hints of rapport (as I saw at the game in Charlotte last night) that have been missing for several years till now.

  • Kevin

    Great questions, and I agree with everyone else to run forward with what they have. They are 15-13 since the last game O’Brien won, and have a consistent rotation (finally), with Tyler turning it on. I also love the statement that we should build “with” Granger and not “around” him. Very well put Terry Donahue! It’s probably safe to assume that all of the starters, especially being young, will improve, giving you a pretty nice lineup. Who knows if mgmt agrees, and on that note, I hope Bird stays on. I think he is not being given NEAR enough credit for where this team is at. This team was essentially rebuilt in less than 5 years. Are they there yet? I think next year will provide that answer, but I’d say YES considering the cap space achieved. Obviously work remains. On a side note, personally I’d like to see McRoberts and Foster resigned. McRoberts I believe is totally untapped and could be had for cheap. Foster seemed to find the fountain of youth. Dunleavy is such a hard call. He probably could be had for cheap too, but how does he fit in? I’m not a big Brandon Rush fan at all, so this is a tough one for me to figure. Great post!! Go Pacers!!!

  • Kevin

    One more thing…. I think mgmt needs to get DC the coaching he needs to become a true starter. That has to be a priority. He has really been abysmal considering his abilities. I’m a fan, but he can sink this young team with a few bad possessions, offensive and defensive! Obviously the other guys have a ways to go too, but I believe they’ve shown steady improvement (except Rush, blah). IMO, DC has taken steps backward.

  • Kevin

    Woops, I keep thinking Rush is starting. He’s not of course, but I’m not sure he’s even good enough to be a back-up. Maybe he is. Dunleavy and Dahntay are probably better back-ups at the 2 and 3, but there is something to be said about youth, athleticism, and 3-point shooting. Maybe it’s time for Rush to focus on being that spot-up 3-point shooter that every team needs.

  • Alex Yovanovich

    A belated you’re welcome to Chris.

    The big thing to keep in mind is that I do not think Herb Simon nor anyone else associated with this organization wants to take a step back. I just think the Pacers will fully evaluate each and every player after the season and then decide what to do with the luxury of this cap room. I wouldn’t get upset if the team doesn’t return intact, because any moves that are made will be with an eye on improving the win total… and that’s the ultimate goal. Finally we get see the benefits of not being saddled with any bad contracts. The albatross has been removed from our collective neck. If nothing else, let’s celebrate that fact.

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