I suppose that us Indy fans sometimes forget the reasons why Bird drafts as he does. The small Indy market, last year's low fan attendance, and our playoff series with Miami probably played a huge role into Bird not drafting a college player with a higher upside. Since Bird has been burned before (i.e. young Shawn Williams) his recent draft picks have been mostly 'safe picks' with the exception of (high-risk high-reward) Lance Stephenson who has yet to see significant playing time. Even drafting 19yr old Paul George in 2010 was considered a 'safe pick' by most accounts.
In Bird's mind, the Pacers are close to the Eastern Conference title 'promise land' since we were the only NBA team to go up on the Heat 2-1 in this year's playoffs. Unfortunately, major injuries to key players on the Bulls and Knicks roster may have given Bird a false sense of security. When healthy, we all saw the Bulls and Knicks perform a beat-down on the Pacers which reaffirmed to most NBA fans that teams with at least 2 superstars are nearly impossible to beat in a 7 game series. Even the Celtics with their aging Big 3 were formidable when Danny Ainge added a few skilled young players to their roster. Throw in the Hawks, 76ers, and other improving Eastern Conference teams and one quickly realizes that next season will be a 'full scale war' to even get back to the NBA playoffs....much less....get past the 1st round again.
With this in mind, let's see what Bird was thinking on draft night. Assuming the Pacer plan is to resign C Hibbert and PG/SG George Hill plus add experienced NBA players to the roster, Bird and staff had to determine whether unrestricted free agents backup Center Fesenko (7'1"/ 285lbs), Lou Amundson (6'9" 225lbs),and/or Shooting Guard Leandro Barbosa (6'6") would be viable pieces on the 2012-2013 roster. With our small market mindset and Barbaso making $7.6 million and Amundson $2.4 million on expiring contract, it was obvious that they both would be commandng similar contracts especially being established NBA veterans. Since we also needed to sign or extend restricted free agents Hibbert and (possibly) Hill, the Pacers brass must have felt that it would be smarter to use their $10 million in CAP savings to help resign Hibbert/Hill plus other unrestricted free agents (i.e. Brandon Roy or OJ Mayo).
Therefore, it would seem that the versatile and bigger Miles Plumlee (6'11.5" 252lbs) would move into the backup C/PF slot previously held by the smaller Lou Amundson (6'9" 225lbs) who struggled against bigger and stronger backup NBA players. Same thought process was used in drafting SG Orlando Johnson (6'5" 224lbs) who is bigger than Leandro Barbosa (6'3" 194lbs). There are some who believe that Orlando Johnson (OJ) is as good or better than the Shooting Guards selected in the 1st round. OJ can create for others, can get his own shot, shoots it out to 3pt range very well, and is not afraid to take and can make tough shot in the clutch.
If Plumlee and OJ are slight upgrades at these two key backup positions (C/PF & SG), that leaves a few more upgrades to the 2012-2013 Pacer Roster. I, for one, was hoping to see a healthy Kyrylo Fesenko (7'1" 285lb) on our roster as backup Center this year. He would bring great size & defensive presence against NBA teams with a huge PF or Center. The last thing the Pacer brass would want is for some big NBA brute to injure Hibbert (inadvertently or purposely) like the nasty Pistons injured PF/C Jermaine O'Neal in the past. If you watch youtube clips of Fesenko while at Utah, there was no one (including badboy Demarcus Cousins) that wanted any part of him in the paint area. If Hibbert or Plumlee go down for any reason, the Pacers will need a legitimate and experienced NBA big man who can play at a high level without the team missing a beat.
Final Thoughts: I'm looking forward to see what Donnie and Pritchard can do in the offseason. From the looks of our Summer Season roster, I don't expect any more younger players added to our current roster. With Plumlee (24yrs old), Orlando Johnson (23yrs old), and Lance Stephenson (22yrs old in Sept) all playing on our Summer roster, Bird's goal was to go into the 2012-2013 NBA season with a Pacer roster containing even more athletic players including young and athletic Paul George (22yrs old), Darren Collison (24yrs old), George Hill (26yrs old), and Roy Hibbert (26yrs old in Dec). If GM Pritchard can sign an experienced NBA veteran, our Pacer team will be better equipped to compete for the Eastern Conference title over another long and grueling, NBA season.