We all know the story by now. On November 19, 2004 the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons blitzed the sporting world with frightful images of player-fan brutality rarely before seen in American sports. This was the start of a lengthy, and progressive Blue-and-Gold demise. Eventually, out went the bad eggs, and in came the good (Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murhpy, etc.), who were not only supposed to help clean up the franchise's image, but also contribute to developing a newly-fashioned, winning atmosphere. Unfortunately, the winning part never materialized, and the "good-guy" element wasn't enough by itself to keep a rabid fanbase intrigued during a hefty stretch of lean-winning years.
Indiana Pacers Version 2011-2012, goes a step beyond Donnie's and Larry Bird's initial franchise-altering attempt. The good-guy element still stands, but it's now supplemented by real change, real talent, and real expectations. Granger, West, Hibbert, George, Collison, Hansbrough, Hill, cap flexibility, and an unexpected competitive playoff series all contribute to the idea that these aren't your tried-and-true-mediocre Pacers anymore. Might a new leaf have been turned while finally...finally directing the franchise toward an optimistic path? Ironically, the Pacers' newly-minted hopes will be first challenged by the same team (and its fans) that prompted the franchise overhaul seven long years ago.
The Pistons are also attempting to forge a new path toward NBA redemption. Decimated in recent years by lackluster coaching, unruly vets, spotty free-agent signings, and injuries, the Pistons seek newfound success through an established coaching presence, and promising youth mingled with an interesting compilation of vets. Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe could be building blocks for the future. Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko could be intriguing complements. Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace play the role of championship-winning graybeards. Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva play the perpetually-frustrating role of talented and paid, "but what have you done for me lately?"
All this should make for must-see TV among NBA fans (well...at least for fans in Indiana and Detroit). Let's take a look at some possible matchups along with some Pacer-centric questions to be answered.
PG: Darren Collison vs. Brandon Knight
Question: Will Collison use his elite-level quickness to properly initiate John Calipari's latest PG phenom to the NBA? Maybe a better question is: Will Vogel & Co. take the ball out of inefficient hands long enough to encourage a more aggressive Darren Collison?
SG: Paul George vs. Rodney Stuckey
Question: Can Paul George stay afloat on both sides of the ball chasing around the Pistons' most dangerous playmaker, while also answering the call of being more involved in the offense?
SF: Danny Granger vs. Tayshaun Prince
Question: Is Prince the right matchup for Danny to effectively show off a more well-rounded/efficient offensive repetoire?
PF: David West vs. Jonas Jerebko
Question: If West plays only a handful of largely ineffective minutes and Hansbrough continues to shine, should the "who should start" debate begin?
C: Roy Hibbert vs. Greg Monroe
Question: Will Big Roy play large against a player with a Hibbert-like krypotonite frame (that would be thick, bulky, and muscular)?
Question: Will a George Hill/Tyler Hansbrough combination prove more potent than not only a formidable Pistons' bench, but also Indiana's own starting tandem of Collison/West?
Let the games begin.