Let me start off by saying that I'm not a Pacer's fan first. As my screen name would suggest I'm a Jazz fan. That said, I'm a big supporter of the Pacers. I like to see them do well. This site's motto sums it up, "in 49 states it's just basketball... but this is Indiana!" Indiana is the place for basketball. It is to basketball what Canada is to hockey, or New Zealand to rugby. I'm convinced that one can't be a true basketball fan and not at least of some rooting interest in Indiana basketball teams. Indiana has a rich, fun and successful basketball history- and an immensely bright future. You gotta cheer for that.
The Pacers won 37 games in the regular season this year. Not bad. But they are better than that. A lot of momentum and growth occurred towards the end of the season. Left unchanged, this roster should produce in the neighborhood of 45 wins next season. The extra cohesion of the team, and the emergence of Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough all but assure that.
That said, why settle for 45 wins? The Pacers are right on the cusp of being one of the league's most dangerous teams, and the high amount of cap space to sign free agents this summer, if properly used, should be able to push the Pacers into the 47-52 win range next season. That's an increase of 15 wins- not shabby. Here's how they could do it.
There are 3 models on which to build a really good team. The first is to have 2 or more star players. We've all seen this time and time again. Shaq and Kobe. Kobe and Pau. Durant and Westbrook. The Miami 3. The Boston 3. Stockton and Malone. Jordan and Pippin. You get the idea.
The second way is to have a solid star and then above average surrounding players. This is Duncan in the mid 2000s. Deron William's Jazz, 1st half of this season and Chris Paul's Hornets. Melo's Nuggets. Dirk and the Mavs. Howard and the Magic. This is actually how the Pacers were so good in the 90s. Miller and then the solid supporting cast of Smits and the Davis's.
The third way is to have a loaded roster of above average guys and quasi stars. This is how the Detroit Pistons won a few years ago. The Nuggets are doing it now. I would argue that the Hawks built around Johnson, Smith and Horford fit this model closer than the second model.
The Pacers are in the middle of the second and third models. Danny Granger is fantastic- I'm not quite sure he can or should be expected to carry a team as the solo star ala the second model. The third model is where the Pacers need to focus their efforts.
They're already nearly there. Granger is a solid 1b player. Paul George is approaching that status. Collison, Hanbrough and Hibbert are developing into they type of players that are your above average supporting casts. That's your basis right there. It's in place.
There are two areas that should be focused on now: interior presence and a lights out shooter.
Nearly every good team (Heat being an exception) have a solid interior presence. Every playoff team left alive, except the Heat do. Look at the list...Garnett. Noah. Horford. Perkins. Chandler. Bynum. M. Gasol. T Duncan.
Now, Hibbert might be able to be that player. The jury is still out. But for immediate help in that area, I'd strongly advocate that Reggie Evans is the free agent to target. The guy is scrappy. Monster rebounder. Stingy defender. And he'd only cost about $6 million a year. Another free agent to target would be Chuck Hayes- similar resume as Evans, a bit better scorer, maybe $7 million a year. The difference a guy like these can make on a team is astounding.
Striking free agency lotto would be Tyson Chandler, Nene or Marc Gasol. They'd be very difficult to pry out of their current teams though (Nene may already have his extension in place, Gasol is RFA , and Cuban will throw money at Chandler) But great pickups if they can be signed.
There are also some other players to possibly target through trade that are not completely untouchable players. The way Patrick Patterson has played may make Luis Scola expendable to the Rockets. Solid scoring punch, rebounding and a tough player. Tyrus Thomas for the Bobcats may be attainable. I even hear rumors that Josh Smith of the Hawks is not highly favored there--though this playoff success for the team may change that, and it'd probably take Granger to get him, at which points the price may be too steep.
Another type of big to get may be a long shooting threat. Think Mehmet Okur. These guys hover around the 3 point line and draw the other team's best interior defenders out of the paint- or hit the open shot if left unchecked. There are not a lot of players like this though. Okur is still under contract over in Utah, and is too injury messed up to really be the same anyways. Bargnani fits the role, but is expensive and the Raptors may not trade him anyways. Possibly Channing Frye? Phoenix may bite on the right deal. But this type of player would not be as valuable as a strong interior presence.
The other type of player that needs to be acquired is a strong shooting threat. Should he fall in the draft far enough, Jimmer Fredette could be a good pick. Now, he can't be starter and his defense is terrible, but on second units he would keep defenses honest- because he will hit an open shot.
From free agency Marcus Thornton or Jamal Crawford could be nice additions to fit this role. The Hawks may do all they could to keep Crawford, and he may be expensive. But either player would be a nice pick up. They can shoot lights out. Defensive deficiencies do exist, particularly with Thornton, but pairing him in games with a solid defensive wing like Paul George can compensate for a lot of that. At any rate, The Pacers need a strong shooter.
One final type of player to target is a defensive minded wing. In the draft, Kawhi Leanord is a guy who fits this bill who should be available. In free agency, target Andrei Kirilenko or Arron Afflalo.
This is the basics of what the Pacer's blue print should look like: they need to follow the third model of building a contending team, and acquire an interior presence and a shooter. All that is very, very practical. This write up was not meant to be all inclusive- there are many more options of available players and types of players that could do the trick. ANd nevermind that free agency, draft or trade lottery could be hit.
The Pacer's future is bright. I believe the are #7 on the future power rankings, and with good reason.
There's a lot to cheer for in the Indiana basketball world.