The traditional NBA Blog Previews are back this year even if the NBA isn't. Hopefully that will be taken care of soon, but until then here is my preview for the Indiana Pacers. Much thanks, as always, to Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog for organizing the previews during this strange, extended offseason.
Team Name: Indiana Pacers
Last Year's Record: 37-45
Key Free Agents: Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy, Josh McRoberts, T.J. Ford
Team Needs: Front court depth
1. What are your team's biggest needs this offseason?
The Pacers only have nine roster spots locked down, ten if you count A.J. Price's non-guaranteed salary, so there are plenty of open spots that need filling. The most urgent needs are in the front court, though, considering that center Roy Hibbert and power forward Tyler Hansbrough are the only true front-court players on the roster. Last season's back up big man, Jeff Foster is a free agent and barring a deal he can't refuse from a title contender, Foster should return at a reasonable price.
Free agent power forward, Josh McRoberts would like to return as well but there are more factors in play with J-Mac. The Pacers want to upgrade the production from the power forward slot and will try to look elsewhere in the free agent market (see: David West, Carl Landry) but if the price isn't right, McRoberts may be their best bang for the buck considering he knows what is going on. Of course, McRoberts may find a better deal elsewhere than the Pacers are willing to offer.
New Pacers guard George Hill adds some versatility to the backcourt, but the Pacers could use a veteran point guard to bring off the bench to stabilize a key position manned by developing, young point guard, Darren Collison.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths & weaknesses? (so far)
Strength: The Indiana Pacers team to take the court will look far different than the team that filed out of the United Center after the playoff loss to the Chicago Bulls. Most of the key players from the late season success return, but there will be at least five roster spots to fill and money to spend on players that could accelerate the team's improvement. So while the Pacers have a good, young core of players, the strength currently lies in the flexibility the franchise has right now to improve the roster after the lockout.
Weakness: The core off young players including Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George and Darren Collison are certainly a bright spot for the Pacers future, but at this point in time remain a weakness. These are good, solid players who will play a heavy role this season. They all may have bright futures, but none has the insane talent oozing out of them that they can be relied on to carry the team like say a Derrick Rose or Blake Griffin. Their NBA games will continue developing and in doing so keep the Pacers inconsistent.
3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?
While it would be a shame for the Pacers to miss the entire season and not have a chance to build on their strong finish last season, the team will be in pretty good shape for 2012. All of the key components to the roster would remain while shedding James Posey's spot on the roster. Everything still hinges on how the Pacers utilize whatever time they get to make offseason moves to fill out the roster.
4. If you could make one change to the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?
Really hard to just chose one, but since the Pacers have been killed of late by the large contracts of under-performing players I would love to see some mechanism for relief from players who are injured or lose interest and not able to play to the level of their contract. The NFL revenue sharing helps level the playing field, but their ability to cut bad contracts on a moment's notice is what really helps teams recover and improve with such a short turn-around. Unfortunately, guaranteed deals will remain part of the CBA but some sort of relief would be nice.
5. What will it take for the Pacers make the playoffs?
Obviously, the Pacers were able to sneak into the playoffs last year with only 37 wins after a tumultuous season filled with a coaching change and wild winning AND losing streaks. Winning streaks are fine, but the Pacers will need to be more consistent in their play this year and avoid those dips in effort and performance that kept them under. 500 last season.
Frank Vogel showed in the playoffs that he can prepare a successful game plan, now the team needs to be able to execute that plan for 48 minutes. And by team I mean everyone. Darren Collison taking care of the ball and making plays down the stretch. Danny Granger stepping up to make bigs shots. Vogel making the right moves at crunch time. The bench outplaying the other team's reserves during their rotation. This won't be a team that can show up in the fourth quarter and overwhelm an opponent. They will need all eight or nine guys getting it done throughout the whole game.