It was mid-summer 2013 for the Indiana Pacers. June 4 to be exact. The team was one day removed from a blowout loss at the hands of the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Team executives, coaches, players, fans and followers alike began asking the questions.
Who stays? Who goes?
What other changes need to be made?
Is this team a title contender?
What, ultimately, happens next?
Those questions, and some, were answered in the ensuing months.
Indiana, in other words, Donnie Walsh and Herb Simon, brought back Larry Bird as President of Basketball Operations. Bird, in turn, began working his magic. First came the draft, when Solomon Hill landed with the Pacers. Next came the non-contract talks between Tyler and Ben Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin. Those three guys would be on the move.
Third was a trade with Phoenix that sent Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee to the Suns in exchange for Luis Scola. Finally, it was free agency that reeled in C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, Donald Sloan and Rasual Butler. All the new acquisitions have filled their roles nicely at various points this season.
Add in a healthy Danny Granger and Indiana was staring at a fresh second unit. Of most importance for Bird, head coach Frank Vogel, and the players themselves, has been the minutes of Granger and Scola.
Twenty-five games in, the primary back-up wing minutes were foggy and confusing. Orlando Johnson, Hill, and Butler all played at various times when their number was called. Butler was the most consistent, with Johnson and Hill being young and inexperienced.
In came Granger, the 30-year-old veteran and former leader of the Pacers. Fully recovered from knee and calf injuries, Granger has stepped in and played 21.6 minutes per game, averaging 8.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in eight appearances. Indiana couldn’t ask for a more experienced, more willing veteran to come in off the bench as a former starting forward and help the team win ballgames.
Same can be said for Scola. The Argentinian big man has been nothing short of consistent since entering the NBA in 2007 with the Houston Rockets. Scola was actually drafted 56th overall by San Antonio at the age of 27. The 33-year-old started 343 games between stints with Houston and Phoenix. He was asked to come in and back up starter David West, and has been superb.
Scola has averaged 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 51.8% in 18.3 minutes, according to Pacers.com. His season-high point total came on December 16, when he scored 18. Scola has played as many as 28 minutes, when the Pacers defeated the Spurs in San Antonio.
As an aside, Vogel has raved about Scola’s basketball IQ, something easily noticeable on the hardwood.
Between the two, Indiana boasts a much stronger bench than a season ago. The veterans will undoubtedly give Indiana a huge boost down the stretch as the Pacers work toward their first NBA title.