After watching the re-born Indiana Pacers these last few weeks, I have become increasingly confident that this team is one good player away from making some noise in the East. It's not going to happen this year, but with a key free agent signing in the off-season or a trade, I believe the Pacers can compete with the powers that be in the East (Boston, Miami, Chicago, Orlando). I don't see any reason why, with proper development, Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, and Roy Hibbert can't make up 80% of a contending starting lineup in 1-2 years. The obvious hole is at power forward. Since trades are nearly impossible to project, I would rather look at something more concrete, the 2011 free agent power forward market.
The list of quality big men that are unrestricted free agents in 2011 isn't that long. I have not included restricted free agents since their teams have the option of retaining them. Furthermore, some of the big names, like Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, and Tyson Chandler are not viable for the Pacers either because of their age or injury history. In my opinion this leaves David West, Zach Randolph, and possibly Nene Hilario or Carl Landry as players that would be a substantial improvement for the Pacers at the power forward position. Here's a quick analysis of each player.
David West is 30 years old and has averaged at least 17 points and 7 rebounds the last 6 years. He is a good pick and pop player who has benefited by playing with the league's top point guard Chris Paul. At 6'9" he is not a great defensive player.
Zach Randolph is 29 years old and is averaging a double-double (20 points and 13 boards) for the fifth time in six seasons. He is the best player on a revived Memphis team. He is not a great passer or defender but his inside-out skills on offense are undeniable.
Nene Hilario is 28 years old and at 6'11" has been playing center for the Nuggets. He is very efficient on offense, averaging a career high 15 points per game on 64% shooting. He is a solid defender but doesn't rebound (7.2 RPG) or block shots (0.9 BPG) particularly well for his size. His mid-range jump shot has shown improvement over the last few years.
Looking at this list, who do you think the Pacers should try to sign? Based strictly on what is done on the court, I think that Randolph is the best player and would be a good fit for the Pacers. He is the best scorer and rebounder of the bunch. However, he is also the one with major character issues. Most recently it was speculated that he is a major player in the marijuana market in Indianapolis. Bringing him home to Indiana could make this problem come to the forefront. Is he worth the risk, or should the Pacers steer clear of anybody with a sketchy past due to the organization's past problems? In my opinion, the Pacers are going to want to shield their seemingly high-character nucleus from an influence like Randolph. That being said, what power forward would you like the Pacers to pursue? Is West the obvious answer? Would someone like Nene who is a better defender and requires less shots be a better fit? Is Landry a big enough upgrade over Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts?