#10 / Forward / Indiana Pacers
Jan 16, 1977
Jeff Foster is next up for a player review. If you missed the earlier reviews, here is the group of players I reviewed prior to the start of any offseason maneuvering: Brandon Rush, T.J. Ford, Jrrett Jack, Roy Hibbert, Travis Diener, Marquis Daniels, Rasho Nesterovic.
How did Jeff Foster impress?
Timing is everything.
Last summer, Jeff Foster signed a three-year contract for $18 and some odd million. This summer Foster's deal appears monstrous since any utility big this summer would do well to sign for a third of Foster's contract value. The deal was criticized in some quarters but at the time it certainly wasn't crazy money for a veteran front court player, willing to play a utility role for a team in transition.
With Jamaal Tinsley parked in Atlanta, Foster's deal also symbolized the Pacers intent to revamp the image of the team and set a standard for what's expected from players going forward. Foster earned this contract by giving the organization everything he had both on and off the court regardless of the crazy circumstances that occasionally ripped through the Fieldhouse.
So an honest review of Jeff Foster's past season can't focus simply on the numbers. His value isn't measured by his scoring average or rebounding rate alone.
Foster is a utility big man, willing to play a variety of roles off the bench or contribute in a starting role, if necessary. With a team in the early stages of developing a young core group of players, having Foster around to provide a steady influence was quite valuable. Like a tub of front-court spackle, he filled the gaps in the playing rotation depending on injuries, foul trouble or opponent matchups. Then there's the stuff we didn't see on the court or in the box score, a cagey veteran mentoring young players on the practice court or in the locker room.
On the court, Foster offered Jim O'Brien a reliable defensive effort and a willingness to bang bodies with any opponent's front court players. Throwing his body into the fray takes its toll, but last season Foster fought through lots of back pain to give whatever JOB asked of him. In fact, Foster's began the season producing quite well but by the end of November the back was an issue and the pain lingered throughout the season.
How did Foster disappoint?
Well, there was this. Not really sure what the plan was there for the end of regulation in L.A. but taking it through Foster obviously didn't work.
Foster also came up short in his quest to shoot 70% from the free throw line last season. I don't recall the specific details, but Slick Leonard challenged Foster to buck up from the line and shoot at least 70% for the season. Things looked good for awhile, but Foster was unable to overcome a sorry stretch of clankage in mid-January and finished the season at 65.8%. During that five-game stretch in January, Foster made a paltry 12 of 26 from the line. In fact, if you remove the 12 makes and 26 FTAs from those five games, Foster was 84 for 120 or, you guesed it, an even 70% from the line.
Foster's inability to stay healthy was also disappointing, which exposes the negative flipside to his contract. For all of the positive intangibles he brings to the roster, in today's market, you need players making over $6 million to play and produce. I've marveled at Foster after seeing him gingerly move across the locker room after just playing through the pain on the court with no drama. Still, the back limited what he could do and was often a day-to-day situation meaning JOB didn't know what type of Foster he'd have available from game-to-game.
With Rasho Nesterovic heading north of the border, Foster is suddenly the elder statesman on the roster. His influence on the young front court players the Pacers have assembled will be huge this year. As for his play, unless he taps into a magical fountain of youth, you have to figure Foster will struggle with his back over the remaining two years of his contract. However, Foster will put in the work and find ways to contribute using his veteran savvy and hustle to drive opposing bigs crazy and force them to work for whatever they get.
Assuming that fountain of youth remians dry, the next two years will likely be Foster's last . He has expressed an interest in remaining with the Pacers' organization in a coaching or front office capacity once his playing days are done. While I'm sure he doesn't want to leave Indy, he may really benefit the Pacers and himself, should a title contending team need some front court depth this year or next and offer the Pacers some desperately needed assets (picks, cap room, both) in a trade. If not, Foster remains part of the bridge group of players whose contract expires after the 2010-11 season. So regardless of when Foster plays his last game in blue and gold, he remains Mr. Pacer, setting the standard in terms of work ethic and effort for others to follow.