2010-11 NBA Blogger Preview: Indiana Pacers

The following is my entry in the NBA Blogger preview series organized by Jeff Clark at CelticsBlog:

Team Name: Indiana Pacers

Last Year’s Record: 32-50

Key Losses: Troy Murphy, Earl Watson, Luther Head

Key Additions: Darren Collison, James Posey, Paul George, Lance Stephenson

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

Over the past few off-seasons the Pacers have had a lot of turnover on their roster in an effort to make changes while being cash-strapped with little to no salary cap space. This past summer, the team made fewer roster changes but the significance of those changes was much larger.

Consistent double-double contributor, Troy Murphy was sent to New Jersey in a four-team deal that brought second-year point guard Darren Collisonto the Pacers along with veteran forward James Posey. Collisonfills the Pacers’ desperate need at point guard, since T.J. Ford has struggled with the Pacers and is now in the final year of his contract. Collison should help solidify the position for the future along with reserve A.J. Price.

Moving Troy Murphy also impacts the Pacers greatly. No longer will the team's power forward be trailing the break to line up a three-pointer. The remaining power forwards are more athletic players that can get out and lead the break instead of floating around the three-point line. This will also force Jim O'Brien to alter his coaching strategy without a stretch four like Murphy to increase the volume of three point shots. But missing Murphy's consistent double-double production will be difficult to replace.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths? 

The strength of the Pacers remains their ability to put the ball in the basket. The team is also more athletic this year which should keep them running all season long. Last year the Pacers finished second in the league with a pace factorof 97.1. That number could rise even more with Collison running the point and the return of a healthy Mike Dunleavy.

Dunleavy's ability to move without the ball and keep the offense flowing is often overlooked and was sorely missed last season. The passing prowess of Roy Hibbert along with Dunleavy can keep the ball moving to create more open and easy shots. With Danny Granger healthy, Dunleavy, Brandon Rush, James Posey and rookie Paul George, there are plenty of shooter available to take advantage of those open looks. 

Granger remains the team's biggest strength though and after spending the summer at leadership camp with Team USA, the high-scoring forward needs to stay healthy to return to the All-Star form he showed two years ago. But as Granger mentioned recently, his scoring average should no longer measure the strength of his game but instead the number of games he helps his team win.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Defense has been a trouble spot for the Pacers over the past three seasons and until proven otherwise, remains a major concern heading into this season. Plus, a mediocre rebounding team minus the 10.2 rebounds per game Murphy contributed will need to find some production on the glass from someone somewhere.

Roy Hibbert heads into the season in tip top shape after a strong summer that included working on the finer points of his game with Bill Walton. Hibbert should be able to defend the rim much better this season, but remains a work in progress so having a healthy Jeff Foster (see a theme, all of these players who weren't healthy last year) to fill the gaps and do some defensive dirty work should help too. 

4. What are the goals for this team?

The primary goald for this Pacers team is to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The team has a thin margin for error and any injury issues similar to last season will make that goal difficult to attain. Even if fully healthy the Pacers will have to play their best to be in the mix for the playoffs since the East has several improved teams that will likely require more wins this season to qualify for post-season play.

Another goal of the team has to be to continue developing the core talent on the roster that has come together over the past couple of years. With tons of cap space coming off the books after this season, understanding which players they can rely on among the young core to carry the team forward in the future is important. That will also help the front office plan how to use that cap space to add talent in the right spots to keep a young team on the rise in the East.

5. Will a team in transition stick together?

Most of the $30 million in expiring cap space available for the Pacers next summer is tied up in salaries for Mike Dunleavy, T.J. Ford, Jeff Foster and Solomon Jones. Larry Bird and David Morway have been beating the drum for some time now about their efforts to put together a young core of talented players while looking ahead to next summer and the big chunk of cap space they'll have thanks to those expiring contracts.
 
Well, those expiring contracts have faces attached to them and they'll be in the Pacers locker room until the season ends or they are dealt. Varied agendas and player demands could make things difficult around Conseco Fieldhouse when the team bumps into the inevitable adversity the long NBA season brings. For the most part, the players in question are pros and head into the season with eyes wide open. Plus, while they may not be in the Pacers' future plans, these guys are in a contract year so they have to protect their value for their next contract.

Predicted Record: 36-46. This Pacers team could be vastly improved over last season's 32-win team without many more wins to show for it. The improved East combined with new young players still finding their way will make wins difficult to come by for the Pacers, but that doesn't mean the team can't develop throughout the season and prove they are moving in the right direction.

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